PORT LEYDEN — The Port Leyden park will soon feature whimsical renderings of plants and animals in the area created by local artist Lydia Johnson Huntress.
Ms. Huntress, a resident of Lyons Falls, applied for and won a $2,500 Public Art Fellowship grant to do the community murals at the urging of friends, Mayor Heather Collins and resident Darci Byrne, who had seen some of her other work, including a large mural at a Boonville church.
“They approached me about applying for the grant and we worked together to submit the application last fall. The awards were given in February and we’ve gone from there,” Mrs. Huntress said.
According to Mrs. Collins, more than seven other artists also submitted their work for the flora and fauna idea but ultimately they “were blown away with the connection we felt to [Mrs. Huntress’] art when she made a submission. We instantly knew this one was the one!”
Ms. Huntress will be creating plant-life murals that will be mounted on the back of the public pool house and animal-life panels for “the old field days barn.” There will be four panels in each series, one for every season.
“The different species will be labeled with their names and things, so we’re using it as a tool to help us connect with the environment around us and will hopefully encourage people to pay closer attention to what is special about our area,” Mrs. Huntress said.
The locations of the buildings will allow the murals to face the playground on both sides and one of the series can also be viewed from State Route 12.
Each panel will be four-foot squares of high-quality plywood and Mrs. Huntress will be using house paint to ensure durability.
“The panels will allow us to take them down in the winter, just to preserve them longer, or move them if things need to be shifted at any point. The goal is to give them longer life by having them be movable artwork,” she said.
While nature and ecology have long been the source of her artistic inspiration, Mrs. Huntress said the flora and fauna murals “were the brainchild of Heather and Darci.”
Mrs. Collins said she had learned about the grant opportunity at a “grant seeker meeting” and after attending another grant meeting with Ms. Byrne, “the wheels began turning. Our imaginations ran wild for our small community park.”
“We want to pass along to the community youth a knowledge of plants and animals native to our area,” Mrs. Collins said.
One requirement of the grant was to engage the community in the project, so Mrs. Huntress created a Facebook page featuring a link to a survey in which people are asked to select the flora and fauna they believe best represents the area among those she sketched for each season.
Those that receive the most votes will be featured more prominently in the panels surrounded by written-in suggestions.
“Each panel is going to feature lots of what’s special about our area in each season and each category,” Mrs. Huntress said, “It is neat to see what people associate with our area.”
Some of those suggestions, however, like a polar bear and a penguin, may not end up making the panels, she said, and she is not yet sure what to do about the mosquito and poison ivy suggestions, but she’s working on it.
So far, 23 surveys have been completed and Mrs. Huntress will accept responses until the end of June.
She is hoping to have the mural finished by the end of July.
Funding for the fellowship came from the Decentralization Program of the state Council for the Arts. The program, administered by the St. Lawrence Council of the Arts, is supported by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature.