GLENS FALLS, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Drive through downtown Glens Falls from one of a few directions, and you’ll see some new sights. On Monday, a bright orange fox flashes its fur on the side of a building bordering Centennial Circle. Over on Warren Street, more animals – a bear and an owl, to name two – were well on their way.
“We had to work together,” said local artist Hannah Williams, taking a break on day 5 of painting at 20 Warren St. “I originally had a large fox planned, but then I collaborated with (fellow artist Jessie Melanson) and he had a fox planned over there, so I changed mine to a bear to make sure we weren’t merging too closely together.”
On Monday, Williams and Melanson were both at work on their respective murals as part of a project by the Arts District of Glens Falls. Proposed earlier this year, the project highlighted several buildings around the city that could serve as the perfect canvas for some public art. Now, two of those canvases – 20 Warren St. and 144 Glen St. – are getting familiar with the brush – and the spray can.
On Monday, Williams was spray-painting swaths of dark blue where monotone colors were needed along a series of outlines she had traced in previous days. Williams prefers to use a brush, but tackling a wall-sized project means expanding your arsenal of tools. One of those tools is the aerial lift she uses to reach the top of the three-story building, which she had to go through certification training in order to use. Otherwise, the mural is a familiar story by now – it’s her third one.
“Last year was a good crash course. I did one at Rock Hill Bakehouse, at the Shirt Factory, on shipping containers. That one prepped me to be prepared for the weather, make sure I eat and have enough fluids, and use sunscreen,” she said.
Williams says she and Melanson have both heard their share of public comments from passersby while painting. Early on, some Glens Falls residents worried about whether the finished projects would accurately portray the Adirondack community.
Melanson started first, arriving in mid-August and painting over the last week and a half. That means that the doodle grid – a series of scribbled outlines of plans to come, not dissimilar to graffiti – had some time to leave the wrong impression for locals.
“The majority of people really liked it – and they did think it was the finished artwork,” said Melanson. “It made me think, maybe someday I will do a finished project that looks like a doodle grid. I think it looks interesting.”
Melanson’s mural is in its final stages, although a circle of that doodle grid could still be seen on Monday, where a hot air balloon will be painted into the sky, joining two others. The balloons weren’t part of the first draft. Melanson is a mural artist from California, with three years of experience painting walls. When he came to Glens Falls, his first plan was centered around a moose head, but upon meeting city officials and spending some time in Hometown U.S.A, the plan went through several revisions.
Williams’ doodles have something to say. In between the carefully-painted outlines of a bear’s cheeks and a plant’s leaves, the artist has written notes on what her work is all about. Some have stats on what murals can do for local tourism revenue (a 50% increase, according to some studies). Williams’ family’s names are visible. So, too, is the name of German-American artist Wilhelmina Weber Furlong, whose life ended in the Glens Falls area.
Williams takes pride in being the first woman to create art on this scale in Glens Falls. Her work can be found at the Glens Falls Shirt Factory, various local businesses, and in public space in Warrensburg. She’s always been fascinated with the natural world, and recently has come to think more about educational value when getting her hands dirty.
“I look towards nature for that. I would love to connect people more with nature – with things they might see out there – and then, hopefully, they can connect with those things when they’re back out there with nature again.”
Williams expects to be finished within the next 2-3 weeks, weather permitting. Melanson expects to finish by Friday. Revisit this story over the coming weeks for more photos of the progress.
Paint yet to splatter
Further down Warren Street from Williams’ project, one more site was planned to get a mural of its own. 103 Warren St., home of Apolistic Christian Fellowship, has no paint on its walls, though. The mural project was funded by Downtown Revitalization Initiative funds from the city of Glens Falls, and the city says the building isn’t quite “downtown” enough.
“That came as a surprise to us,” said Kate Austin-Avon, organizer of the Arts District of Glens Falls. “Even though the arts district goes outside of the downtown district, they denied it. Now we’re trying to work with the city to find other forms of funding.”
So far, Austin-Avon and the city have looked at three potential funding routes to paint the Warren Street building – which already has an artist ready to get to work. Two of those funding routes have been denied, and one remains pending. Should it meet the same fate as the other two, Austin-Avon says that community fundraising may be the only way forward.
It’s not all bad news, though. The funding originally intended for the second Warren Street mural can now be used elsewhere, and the city knows just the spot. City and Arts District personnel are currently reviewing proposals for the alleyway between Charles R. Wood Theater and Spot Coffee, connecting pedestrian traffic from Glen Street to LARAC and City Park. A meeting is slated for later this week to see more into the future of the alleyway as yet another canvas.
Public art in Glens Falls didn’t start in 2022. Last year, the Arts District and the city hired several artists – Williams among them – to paint electrical boxes throughout the city. On Monday, the city put out a call for applicants to come and bring color to three more, joining the likes of dogs, plants and more that dot spots along Glen, Bay and Warren streets.