B.P.C. parks are muses for amateur artists


By Jefferson Siegel

Last weekend, a gunmetal-colored layer of clouds hung low above the Hudson, absorbing any trace of color from the winter landscape. Bare tree branches swayed in the winds of an approaching cold front as small gray hedges shivered in nearby planters.

Just a block from this chilly scene, inside the South End Ave. building of the Battery Park City Parks Conservancy, crocuses bloomed, trees blazed with leaves and people reclined in tee-shirts on green lawns.

The scenes were creations of artists in the conservancy’s painting and drawing programs, part of an annual exhibition of artworks. The exhibition opened Sunday and will be on display weekdays for the next two months.

“There was a lot of art being created in the parks by both adults and children,” said Abigail Ehrlich, the conservancy’s director of parks programming. “What I would see happening in the parks was wonderful, all kinds of creative expressions.”

“But,” she continued, “everybody would take their art home. I thought, wouldn’t it be great to have some of that art in the middle of the winter, when the parks aren’t as beautiful? So we started having an annual art exhibition.”

Inside the office space at 2 South End Ave., walls are now covered with pastels, watercolors and photographs. On one wall, children’s photography hangs prominently. Another wall displays figures and still lifes. Ehrlich observed that most of the adult art is representational, while the children’s and teen’s works tend towards the abstract.

The student body comprises a palette of ages as well as locals from as near as B.P.C. and Tribeca to as far as the West Village, the Upper West Side, Coney Island, Staten Island and even New Jersey.

“I used to love to walk down the river,” said Jim Cozby, a student from the Village. Five years ago, while strolling by, he “saw the art class in the South Cove.” Soon he was coming every weekend. Cozby, a computer graphic designer, exhibited five small finely-detailed watercolors of park flora at the exhibition.

Soho resident Richard Overholt, a chef at Tribeca’s Duane Park Cafe, had his artwork bound in a book for display. “The restaurant business allows me to be artistic, but this is a whole different thing. It’s a great opportunity,” he said as several visitors paged through his work.

In addition to student creations, this year’s exhibition highlights the work of those who teach the various programs.

“They all are professionally-trained working artists,” Ehrlich noted, and they include graduates of the Yale Art School and the Rhode Island School of Design. “They love working with the public and they love working out in the parks.”

A Saturday program, “Drawing in the Park,” taught by Larry Dobens and Louise Johnson, offers busy Downtowners a creative outlet. “It’s a ‘drop-in’ program,” explained Dobens. “Anyone who’s in the area and sees us out there [in the park] can drop in and pick up some art supplies and they can draw anything they want.” The program runs in the fall and spring. “There are 9 or 10 people that come every week and other people just come for one season,” Dobens added. He marveled at the variety of artists in the programs; beginners, professionals and recreational artists all participate.

Ehrlich emphasized that benefits accrue to the casual passerby as well. “It just opens your eyes to other possibilities in our busy lives. In that way, we are able to share with each other,” she said.

One new program for teenagers this year is the “Portfolio Development Program” taught by Miki Iwamura. The program is intended to help to those applying to specialized art high schools and colleges. “We’re thinking about how we can serve our community better,” Ehrlich said.

Ehrlich said the exhibition shows why we need art and why we need each other.” Through the conservancy’s art programs, she added, people can “see the way the parks and the river looks through so many different people’s eyes. It’s really wonderful.”

Stepping outside into the gray late-winter afternoon, the barren parks now seemed to reveal hints of future color.

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