Community Mural Comes To Life in Penn Yan
Community Mural Comes to Life in Penn Yan
A transformation is taking place on East Elm Street in the Village of Penn Yan. On the east wall of the Once Again Shoppe, a team of local artists are collaborating to produce a mural that represents both the history and heart of the area.
Local graphic designer Paulina Garcés Reid and sculptors Sam Castner and Lindsey Dean are joined by New York City-based illustrator and muralist Carla Torres in creation of the public art. Installation work began late on the evening of July 26, when the illustration was projected and the outline traced on the wall. Painting began shortly after and will continue for several days.
The final design for the mural came about through community input sessions hosted by the Penn Yan Public Library, online feedback, and extensive research supported by the Yates County History Center. “The work has really been community-driven from the beginning,” says Garcés Reid, owner of Garcés Designs and FLXdesigns, who conceived of the project.
The mural encompasses both past and present, prominently featuring three key historical figures — Abraham Wagener, considered the “father of Penn Yan” by local historians; a representative of the Seneca (Haudenosaunee) Nation of Indians, original inhabitants of the land; and Jemima Wilkinson, the Public Universal Friend — as well as a farmer planting seed.
“Penn Yan exists because of these people,” explains Garcés Reid. “They’re why we’re here.”
In the lower right corner are several faces representing the roots and foundation of the community — its people. Other elements of the design include a tractor, a Mennonite horse and buggy, buckwheat flowers, and a steamboat. The latter was the suggestion of local artist and teacher Bob Gillespie.
For many years, the wall featured an unfinished mural created by Gillespie and several of his students. Because of the incomplete nature of the original art, as well as how faded it had become over the years, Gillespie was thrilled when he heard The Once Again Shoppe was interested in a new installation and that Garcés Reid and the team had a vision for the space. “I enjoy the painting’s composition and stylized manner featuring these historic figures,” he says. “The Native American is rightfully front and center.”
“Bob has been an important ally and incredibly supportive to us throughout the process,” says Ironvine Studios owner Castner, explaining that Gillespie was one of the first people to see the finished design and offer feedback.
On the left side of the mural is a poem, “Baggage Allowance,” written by famed local poet Ralph Seager, several of whose family members still call Penn Yan home. “I’m so happy to see his words and his name still out there for others to enjoy,” says Seager’s granddaughter Deb Connelly. “Our family is so grateful to the team for keeping his work and his memory alive and well in this place he loved.”
The approval process for the installation was exhaustive — the team sought buy-in, received permission, and obtained necessary permits from individuals and groups including Penn Yan Mayor Leigh MacKerchar, the Chamber of Commerce, the Village Board, the Historic Preservation Committee, the Community Art Committee, the Tourism Advisory Committee (TAC) Grant Committee, and of course the Once Again Shoppe.
“We’re incredibly grateful for the many organizations that helped our idea become reality,” says Garcés Reid, noting that without funds from the Yates County TAC, “the mural would not have been possible. The Once Again Shoppe has been our biggest cheerleaders, and we’re so grateful to Bob Gillespie for giving permission to paint over the previous mural.”
The project has been a labor of love for the artists.
“It’s been very rewarding to be involved in this amazing community project, to listen to the voices of Penn Yan and interpret their ideas at a very large public scale,” says Dean. “We hope this will be a catalyst for many projects to come, showcasing other artistic voices in the community and adding to the already rich history of this region.”
“We feel this large-scale public art will help improve our community through pride, elicit awe, and add inspiration for the well-being of everyone living, working, and visiting our beautiful town,” Castner says. “This work will lead to more murals for our team, and develop a continued growing support for community engagement and social cohesion. We love sharing our creative energy to help promote community revitalization and making social connections.”
“It’s been a privilege to honor Penn Yan’s past and represent the communities that lived in this beautiful place, especially the Haudenosaunee (known as the Iroquois), who were the original people on this land,” says Torres. “I hope the community receives this mural with the same joy and love we’ve poured into the making of it.”
Garcés Reid explains that the mural has been two years in the making, and she is especially happy to have assembled a “dream team” to make it come to life. She hopes it’s the start of many more public art projects in Penn Yan.
“My idea was to create art that can attract tourists from Geneva to Watkins, who may not think of Penn Yan as a destination,” she says. “We are garnering the synergy that art brings to a community to attract tourism to downtown and create an even more vibrant business district.”
Members of the community and visitors to the area are invited to stop by and watch as the team puts the finishing touches on Penn Yan’s latest public art installation. “We’re excited to talk with the community about the work, because, after all, we’re doing this for the community,” says Garcés Reid.