WATERTOWN — The portable steam engine, the paper bag, the safety pin and the Little Trees that dangle from rear-view mirrors — all Watertown inventions celebrated in a community mural taking shape this week.
Designed by Potsdam artist Liza L. Paige, “The Inventions of Watertown” is the first commission for the Riverwalk Art Project, a multi-year initiative headed by the Watertown Downtown Business Association. The goal: breathe colorful life into Veterans’ Memorial Riverwalk along the Black River, and propel the city to become a north country cultural center.
“This is only the beginning,” DBA President Joseph A. Wessner said of “The Inventions of Watertown.”
With the SUNY Potsdam semester concluded, Mrs. Paige has set up a staging area in the Roland Gibson Gallery at Brainerd Hall. She started the outline last week on separate, 4- by 8-foot panels that will be stationed more than 70 miles southwest in Watertown, at Saturday farmers’ markets in June. Color will be added by community members, paint-by-number style.
“People are sometimes intimidated to have their artwork on display, but this kind of guideline can give them more confidence starting out,” Mrs. Paige said, then laughing: “and because I drew it, they can just say it’s my fault if it looks bad.”
Mrs. Paige earned her bachelor of fine arts from SUNY Potsdam and master of fine arts in visual studies from the University at Buffalo. She’s an adjunct drawing and 3D design instructor at SUNY Potsdam and St. Lawrence University, and is an arts educator at the North Country Children’s Museum in Potsdam.
The COVID-19 pandemic, she said, limited studio time with students and pushed her to explore new artistic engagement. Through the Children’s Museum last June, for instance, she outlined a paint-by-number mural on the back facade of Potsdam Tire and Auto on Depot Street. The Community Coloring Book project was completed by families stopping by to fill in the image of an astronaut and celestial bodies.
Mrs. Paige’s Watertown mural is being sponsored by the Lori Gervera Team real estate office, a local affiliate of the international Keller Williams real estate franchise.
“A little more graphic” than landscape or conventional municipal history murals, Mrs. Paige said, “The Inventions of Watertown” will be backdropped by a vibrant fuchsia. The sketch features a portable steam engine outfitted as a vehicle, with an irrigation system, a Royal Pine-scented Little Tree freshener, paper bags and safety pins emerging from the engine.
“It’s so important that people not only be able to see more artwork, see public street art, but also know they’ve created it themselves,” Mrs. Paige said.
The DBA’s Downtown Art Committee is steering the Riverwalk Art Project with a host of involved parties, including: the North Country Arts Council, professional muralists, college and K-12 students, the Children’s Miracle Network, The Arc of Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties, Smitkit Studio, Holdown Upstate, Foy Benefits and the Northern New York Community Foundation.
Murals will cover 492 feet of concrete retaining wall within the park on Newell Street. Pieces will be painted on aluminium panels mounted to the wall, and as the art is viewed and students cycle through art classes, Mr. Wessner said, the panels will be swapped.
“So it’s not going to become a static, normal wall of murals that you might forget about after you’ve seen it for a while,” he said. “There will be something new every year.”
Organizers are anticipating the stretch of concrete to be filled within the next three years, then adjusted to incorporate new art, with removed panels auctioned to support additional commissions. Street art classes, sculptures, outdoor workshops and other public installations are also planned, Mr. Wessner said.
Donations for the ongoing initiative may be sent to the NNY Community Foundation, care of the Riverwalk Art Project.