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The story was originally published in LOCALadk Magazine in the Spring 2020 issue. LOCALadk Magazine is all about inspiring people; to climb, to ski, to ride, to think, to create, and to explore. Their readers eat well, live healthy, responsible lifestyles, and enjoy both the in and outdoors of the Adirondack Mountains. Ultimately, their goal is to motivate their readers to interact with the local surroundings, whether it be paddling on a great SUP adventure, red-pointing a favorite climbing route, or enjoying the newest farm-to-fork restaurant in town. They do this by celebrating, documenting and investigating local Adirondack Mountain lifestyle, and delivering fresh written and photographic content with passion. Normally, you be able to easily pick up the latest copy in a local Adirondack business, but with the current state of the country and the spread of COVID-19, it's best to read the digital issue online.
North Creek is home to one of the largest pieces of community art in the North Country. Artist Kate Hartley has been working on creating a beautiful and detailed mosaic art installation on a 40-year-old retaining wall in the middle of town. The North Creek Mosaic Project (link goes to Facebook page) was started just over nine years ago and is on track to be finished during its 10th anniversary year. The wall when completed will span 180 feet long and in spots reach 11 feet high. This wall is a true community project in that Kate invites and wants people to help. To date, almost 2000 people have contributed in some way, including children, teens, and adults.
The overall theme of the wall captures some of the best aspects of the Adirondacks through nature and how we enjoy the Park’s recreational opportunities. Wildlife can also be found hiding throughout the wall. Fish splash in cold streams, heron hunt along the banks of a river, butterflies fly through the forest and a bear lopes through the trees. The project has actually published a book, North Creek Mosaic Project Wildlife Guide, that describes more than 50 animals native to the Adirondacks and who also “live” on the wall. A fox who is depicted running down one of the steps between the wall sections was inspired by an actual fox that would often be seen running down the same stairway. Making a connection to the wall is easy for most, as the scenes vary to show people fishing, skiing, boating, biking and camping.
The wall is in four panels. The final section is 55 feet long and depicts a lake scene. Throughout the winter on Thursdays Kate created an “open studio” workshop free of charge for people to come in and help work on the wall. The volunteers create their part of the picture and Kate helps complete it by filling in the background area with swirls of tile and glass. When the wall warms up to 50 degrees Kate and her volunteers will be back outside attaching all the pieces assembled during the winter months.
I decided the best way to really understand this project was to attend the open studio. Meeting Kate was like meeting an old friend. She greeted me with a huge smile that never left throughout the night and her passion and joy for this project was infectious. With no knowledge of what my artistic abilities were she asked what I wanted to make for the wall. I picked a dragonfly to keep things simple and Kate proceeded to teach me the steps: draw, trace, cut glass, lay out and glue. The work it took me to make a simple dragonfly quickly made me realize the enormity of the detail and thought that goes into every piece of the wall. It is truly incredible.
Children have been a big part of this project, local kids especially. Every class from the local Johnsburg Central School has participated in some way. Kate also has many regular volunteers, some of whom were working on specific projects the night I joined them. Wendy from Wevertown has been a part of the project from the beginning, and when asked what draws her to the project, she states the fun and creative process. The feeling of pulling the pieces together to create a scene gives her great satisfaction. She proudly tells me she is actually in the wall, riding on an inner tube down the river. Beth and her husband, Peter, who are also there that night, are regular volunteers and have come that night to work on one of the paddles that makes up the frame of the wall. Beth says the feeling of community and the pure fun of it draws her to the project. She tells me about a special part of the wall that she and her daughter worked on together, a wave. Brian, a veterinarian and a potter from Warrensburg, was attending his first open studio session. When he arrived with the hope to create and add a coyote to the wall, Kate enthusiastically said yes. Brian simply loves the project, the community aspect and the beautiful artwork, and he appreciates an outlet for his creative side. Visitors also make up a large portion of the volunteers, from summer residents to people just passing through. Kate says much of the tile and glass is donated by people who simply love the project and want to help in some way. A community project, indeed.
Funding for the project has also been a mosaic of sorts and is ongoing. Some of the supporters are Rivendell Foundation, Community Fund for the Gore Mountain Region, Warrensburg High School and Barton Mine to name just a few. The earlier-mentioned book is a fundraiser along with note cards and T-shirt sales. They also currently have a GoFundMe campaign under Help Kate Finish the North Creek Mosaic Wall in 2020.
Take a trip to North Creek and see the beautiful wall for yourself.