Outside Art

The many murals of Downtown

Tucked down side streets, strewn across brick walls and woven in between restaurants and shops are pieces of art our eyes have grown accustomed to in downtown Plattsburgh. On the side of Our House Bistro, the Platform 9 and ¾  mural pays homage to Harry Potter. Grassy-green rolling hills, flowers and woodland creatures painted on the side of Cornerstone Bookshop greet pedestrians as they walk to a morning coffee and pastry from DeLish by Irises. At dusk, the sun beams its golden hues on the mural of movie star Jean Arthur on the corner of Brinkerhoff and Oak Street.  

In January 2016, Outside Art was created by Julia Devine and Amy Guglielmo. The public art project supports the production of murals, sculptures and multimedia installations. Since its founding, Outside Art artists have created 10 murals for the Plattsburgh community with two more in the works for summer 2020. 

Planning begins one to two years ahead of time as Devine and Guglielmo find an artist and a wall they can work on. Within that time, they are also applying for grant money to fund artwork that can only be created during the warm weather that the months of May through October bring.

“We really like to prioritize showcasing the talent of local artists first,” Devine says.

Outside Art was launched when Devine and Guglielmo produced the Battle of Plattsburgh mural with artist Shawna Armstrong. Before that, Devine had organized the tile mosaic mural on the side of Our House Bistro. She saw the positive effect public art had on the community and drew connections to her hometown of Philadelphia and the power and influence of public art there from that realization. 

One of their biggest projects was the “Read and Grow! The Dream Garden Mural” located at the Plattsburgh Public Library. It was designed by local ceramic artist Sue Burdick-Young who was inspired by “Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt”, a children’s book written by local author Kate Messner with art from Brooklyn-based illustrator Christopher Silas Neal. 

“It was made by hundreds of community members,” Devine explains, “and features interactive elements such as 3D printed marble raindrops powered by solar energy that circulate the perimeter of the mural representing the rain cycle.” 

“Since 2016, murals have been popping up all over downtown. They have become part of the natural landscape and symbols of downtown,” she says.

The mural of actress Jean Arthur is one of their biggest projects and was created by Brendon Palmer-Angell, a New Orleans-based artist, last fall. He reached out to Outside Art via their Facebook page and planned to create a large mural on the back of the Merchant’s National Bank building on Brinkerhoff Street. The wall offered him 40 feet of flat surface to bring his idea to life. Over 15 days, through rain and shine, Palmer-Angell composed his intricate portrait of Jean Arthur. 

Brendon Palmer-Angell’s portrait of Jean Arthur

“I think I only took one day off,” Palmer-Angell recalls. “There were a number of days that were kind of sloppy where I had to sit it out… sit in the car, go in the library, get a coffee or something.”

As for making the decision to paint Jean Arthur, the city wanted to honor their very own Plattsburgh-born movie star. They marked the house she was born in, 94 Oak Street, and began to draw attention to her in little ways to “lift her up” as Palmer-Angell says.

“I think part of why lifting [Jean Arthur] up is important is just to see women in the arts, to highlight women in the arts,” Palmer-Angell says. “In the 20s and 30s when she was a film star, she was taking roles that were strong female roles.”

The delicate and demure features of Arthur’s long black lashes and supple lips in various shades of gray, charcoal and black blend seamlessly with a muted mustard hued background. Fading circles strategically placed atop one another create the illusion of a gentle studio light casting a warm soft-glow. Arthur is depicted as both strikingly beautiful and undeniably powerful. 

While this mural has brightened up the downtown area, it has also enriched the Plattsburgh art scene. 

“With public art, it really is a power for engaging a community and activating a space, really kicking off dialogue and bringing people together,” Palmer-Angell says.

Plattsburgh-based artist Kris Petrashune shares the goal of bringing people together in downtown Plattsburgh with art and creativity. Petrashune draws, paints and sculpts.

“Art is very important to Plattsburgh because so many artists live here,” Petrashune says. “[Art] will always have a pulse, even if it’s faint.”

“I feel like [art] is more encouraged in the community,” she says. “With all these murals popping up, I feel like Plattsburgh is really nurturing it’s creative side.”

As more concrete walls become smothered in flashy pinks, muted greens and vibrant golds, the downtown Plattsburgh art scene will continue flourishing, creating a more colorful world and bringing more eyes to notice the power of art.  

Story by Jacqueline Hinchcliffe

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