Three tours to view Rochester's public art
05:00 AM, Aug 25, 2013
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See a video of what you can see in the Neighborhood of the Arts, Washington Square Park and South Wedge areas.
There are quiet pockets of beauty throughout the city of Rochester: stone statues of childlike figures on street corners, steel sculptures of birds suspended from rafters, and paintings on buildings that evoke fairy tales. Public art is quickly awakening, and it’s revitalizing a city hungry for self-expression.
Grant Holcomb, director of the Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, believes that free, public art is the cornerstone of any thriving city.
“Public art, at its best, provides a sense of civic pride and makes art accessible to a community,” he says. “It engages, stimulates and even defines a neighborhood, while becoming a cultural destination for visitors to the area.”
The creation of the ArtWalk in 2000 (and the ArtWalk Extension last year) and the popularity of First Friday and Second Saturday gallery hops have made Rochesterians increasingly accustomed to the city’s visual arts culture.
Commissioned works are springing up throughout the city, and feedback from residents is overwhelmingly positive. Individual projects are strong as well the Wall\Therapy movement just closed its most ambitious and heavily documented year yet: Almost 40 new outdoor murals were created in eight days.
While the fleeting warmth of summer lasts, it’s an opportune time to put on a pair of walking shoes and tour the city’s outdoor public art on foot. Here are three afternoon strolls (or bicycle rides) that won’t cost you a cent.
Neighborhood of the Arts
What to see. Start in the heart of the city’s ArtWalk and ArtWalk Extension, which stretches from the George Eastman House, 900 East Ave. to the Memorial Art Gallery, 500 University Ave., and features sculptures, murals and galleries.
To narrow the choices, stroll the 17-acre grounds of the Memorial Art Gallery. The newly christened Centennial Sculpture Park celebrates 100 years of the MAG. Works by artists Wendell Castle, Jackie Ferrara, Tom Otterness and Albert Paley (whose Soliloquy sculpture will go up in September) are part of Phase 1. They join existing works like William Sellers’ seemingly iridescent Six Cubes.
Frequently photographed favorites are the round, whimsical childlike statues by Otterness at the corner of Goodman Street and University Avenue. And Castle’s fully functional table and chairs sculpture invites visitors to enjoy a sunny day.
On the sidewalks around the MAG you’ll find the Story Walk and Poets Walk, with commentary included in the MAG’s cellphone tour at (585) 627-4132.
When you’ve finished touring the MAG’s offerings, head east on University, past Goodman, for more ArtWalk installations, including bus stops by John and Laurie Grieco and Nancy Gong. Mosaic light poles by Betsy Weber and other artists also line the avenue. Vincent Massaro’s 10-foot-high ArtWalk Cat is a fun piece and contains a time capsule created by students from the Cobblestone School on nearby Prince Street.
For street-art lovers, there’s the Legal Wall (behind 200 Anderson Ave.), a display of colorful, legally permitted graffiti. A garden with art and inscriptions appropriate for Writers & Books can be found along the side of the group’s University Avenue building.
Benches and other sculptures along the way offer more inspiration, and a quick jaunt south past Park Avenue on Barrington Street brings you to Rochester’s School No. 23, with Massaro’s Cat & Bird, an animal totem pole and a sculpture garden.
Go to RochesterArtWalk.org for more information.
What to sip while you walk: An iced University Latte (creamy vanilla with a hint of cool peppermint) from Starry Nites Café on University.
Where to park: Along University Avenue or on a side street. Parking is free just make sure you’re on the correct side, as some streets alternate according to day.
Washington Square Park Neighborhood
What to see: The bronze Soldiers and Sailors monument. It was erected in 1892 in the center of Washington Square Park Rochester’s first park and the place where Frederick Douglass once delivered speeches to honor Civil War dead and Abraham Lincoln.
This summer, School of the Arts students and local artists are teaming up to paint four traffic boxes in the neighborhood. In July, local artist Rachel Dow completed the first box featuring sunflowers on a bright blue background at the corner of South Avenue and Woodbury Boulevard.
Across the street from the park is the Claude Bragdon-designed First Universalist Church on South Clinton Avenue; take particular note of the windows.
Then head to the Bausch + Lomb Building. In the lobby is a suspended armillery, a Renaissance-era tool used to determine planetary orbits. The sculpture, Present Passage, is by Larry Kirkland. On the balcony is Prophets by Leonard Urso. In the Wintergarden, a piece of the Berlin Wall stands preserved, its crumbling edges and faded graffiti speaking to the history of a thousand protestors. Nearby is Wendell Castle’s Metamorphosis, a 12-foot-tall, lit wall composed of mixed media: curly maple and jelutong wood, acrylic paint and neon. Suspended from the ceiling are The Five Sisters geese by Mary Taylor.
A short walk away, the Rundel Memorial Library Building at 115 South Ave. displays the magnificent work of Ulysses Ricci’s Rundel Library Relief, a stone, art deco depiction of a royal birth. In addition, free exhibits often are staged inside the Rundel and Bausch library buildings. Right now the Rundel is hosting an exhibit of political and other historic buttons.
What to sip while you walk: Iced lemonade, served at the Tim Horton’s in the Bausch library building. (The shop is locally franchised and managed by a young married couple.)
Where to park: The streets surrounding Washington Square Park usually have available spots, but make sure you have quarters for the meter. There’s also public parking available for a fee in the Court Street Parking Garage (entrance at 194 Court St.).
South Wedge/Mount Hope/Highland Park
What to see: Totem poles with a dual purpose. In 2008, seven artists transformed parking meters in the South Wedge into hitching posts for bicyclists who pass through the neighborhood. Made from such scraps as bike wheels and glass bottles, the totems also function as public art.
The South Wedge also features a sculpture of city founder Nathaniel Rochester (at the corner of Alexander Street and South Avenue). Laotian-born artist Pepsy Kettavong’s rendition of Rochester, unveiled in 2008, captures the man in quiet contemplation.
In Highland Park opposite the Lamberton Conservatory is a Poets Walk erected in 1916 on the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial off of South Avenue also provides opportunity for reflection.
If you’re feeling ambitious, Mt. Hope Cemetery covers 197 acres and boasts monuments, urns, columns and Gothic architecture. Don’t miss Sallie Farnham’s Civil War Monument, an eerie depiction of a young man and boy affected by the war; and the Fireman’s Monument by H.S. Hebard, a figure that stands guard 50 feet above the firemen’s section in the cemetery.
What to sip while you walk: Frozen “hot” cocoa (hot chocolate blended with ice) from Boulder Coffee Co., 100 Alexander St. Check in later for open mike night at the trendy spot, a combination bar/music venue/coffee shop.
Where to park: Street parking is an option throughout the South Wedge, and most of the time it’s free. Mt. Hope Cemetery has plenty of free parking as well, but make sure you aren’t blocking a grassy drive before you leave your vehicle.
Wall\Therapy. This project, conceived by University of Rochester radiologist Ian Wilson, had a dozen international artists paint murals in the area around the Rochester Public Market in 2012. This year, the roster had 30 spray can-brandishing virtuosos along the El Camino Trail and in the South Wedge neighborhood. Go to media.democratandchronicle.com/walltherapy to see how this year’s project progressed.
Paley sculpture project. Albert Paley has 13 large-scale sculptures on display right now on New York City’s Park Avenue. One of them will find a permanent home at Rochester Institute of Technology, where his Sentinel already stands. His Threshold is an entryway sculpture for the headquarters of Klein Steel Service. Birch Crescent Duo, made up of violist Sterling Tyler and percussionist Colin Deay, have arranged to play concerts at Paley’s local installations. They will be playing Deay’s “Symphony for Sculptures,” inspired by Paley, at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 4 by his installation at The Strong, and at 12:30 p.m. Sept. 12 at Klein Steel.
Stained glass. Nancy Gong and Valerie O’Hara, both local stained-glass artists, created a self-guided tour of Rochester’s stained-glass treasures for their fellow artists. But anyone can learn a great deal of history by taking it. (Note: Some of the featured stained-glass works are in private homes. Others are in churches, and you would need to call ahead for their hours.) The Rochester area is a treasure trove of works by many of the world’s most famous stained-glass makers, like Tiffany Studios and William Morris. Go to http://whatsuproc.com/art/story/119030.
Pembroke Street art panels. The Swillburg Neighborhood Mural Project includes several full-scale murals depicting area history and interests. For more information, go to swillburg.com/local-art/pembroke-street-art-panels.
Even more public art. Architectural photographer and Anderson Alley Artists member Richard Margolis documents indoor and outdoor public art on his website, rochesterpublicart.com. The site is organized, frequently updated and accepts suggestions for additions.