DELMAR — The Albany County Helderberg-Hudson Rail Trail is a Bethlehem treasure. The 9.8 mile trail, which stretches from the Port of Albany to Voorheesville, is known for its appeal to nature lovers and athletes on their walks or runs.
Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy’s volunteer project, Art on the Rail Trail (ART), is committed to beautifying the trail. The organization gathers local artists, who use different parts of the trail, from bridge overpasses to fences, as a canvas to create artwork for trail users to enjoy. The bursts of color the art provides is a welcome contrast from the otherwise relatively bland trail, which is heavy on trees and concrete. The organization formed in 2017 and has quickly blanketed the trail with color.
ART will host an online auction on April 19, beginning at 9 a.m. All proceeds from the auction will benefit the artists and go back into creating more art for the community to enjoy.
“We have gathered 41 pieces of art to auction this year,” ART volunteer coordinator Julie Sasso said, “and each piece will have its own auction page. We’ve really worked hard this past year to keep the trail an accessible, enjoyable space for all and we wanted to continue brightening up the trail with the pieces these artists contributed.”
The auction will kind of mirror eBay’s system: buyers will have an opportunity to place a bid on a piece; each will have a starting bid to build from. Bidders will be notified when someone bids against them. For those who find bidding too stressful, there will be an option to buy each piece outright for a set price.
Deborah Zlotsky, Rob O’Neil, Kathy Greenwood and Theresa McTague are four local artists who contributed works for the auction. Each utilizes a different medium for their art; Zlotsky is a mixed bag, O’Neil is a photographer, Greenwood is a textile artist and McTague is a painter. Each not only utilizes art from a professional standpoint but as a critical part of the world around us.
“The rail trail is this cut that divides the industrial area of our community from the suburbs,” O’Neil said. “When I’m behind the camera, it’s my way of codifying the world and making it make sense for myself and hopefully for others.”
One of the projects O’Neil works on is photographing rest stops. The quick pop-offs that frame most thoroughfares are sometimes dingy and unapproachable, but it doesn’t stop travelers from stopping for a bathroom break or a water. O’Neil said in watching rest stops, he’s struck by the strangeness of the area and how transient it is. Because rest stops turn customers over so quickly, it never looks the same.
Greenwood is another who uses the concept of travel in her world. She is in charge of the art gallery at Albany International Airport. As she cultivates pieces for people to digest while waiting for or departing their flights, the textile artist is committed to using items she finds in life to breathe a new life into something newly beautiful.
“I had found a vintage handkerchief that I was able to take apart and weave into,” Greenwood said. “I love reimagining ordinary objects as pieces of art and incorporating everyday objects in new ways.”
Greenwood loves ART because it makes art accessible to more people, allowing people who are new to admiring or collecting art the chance to understand how the community works. Because the rail trail is free to use, the art on it is reaching substantially more people, and a more diverse pool, than if the artists exclusively displayed in art museums or paid shows.
Zlotsky agrees. Her pieces, which are intricate, colorful and diverse, allow her to mirror her own decision making and the way “history evolves through the accumulation of actions and reactions—in the way complexities and disruptions are built over time through the accidents that get baked in.” The Guggenheim Fellow is highly regarded in the art world.
“It’s the interaction between viewers and artworks that brings both alive in new ways, awakening connections to new ideas, cultures, histories, the possibilities of what can be beautiful and so much more,” Zlotsky said of the relationship between art and admirers. “Works are often unique, made with thoughtfulness and purpose. Experiencing a work of art first hand allows you to connect with the maker and the materials, to savor the pleasure of looking, to become aware of your body and the space around you, and to discover meaning over time.
“When you travel to a new place, you go to museums, look at the architecture, walk in the parks, visit historical sites– the places that let you experience what humans have created over the ages, and reflect on what it meant to be alive then and what it means to be alive at this moment in time,” Zlotsky continued.
First time trail users are often struck by the colors framing the nature that the trail boasts. As the trail transitions from gray to greener, the bright colors stick out more, a representation of the life that grows and prospers in Bethlehem’s neighborhoods.
“For me, painting is a way to relax,” McTague said. “If I didn’t paint, I think my mental health would deteriorate rapidly. It’s a way to signal to myself that it’s time for me and I get into drawing or painting mode and my brain hums in a way. Making art is a way to process the world around us. I definitely miss seeing art in person, and museums. Museums and galleries are such sacred and safe spaces for me to think, draw and absorb.”
McTague’s works can be described as “colorful and chaotic,” and she works to “cultivate scenery from dreams, memories and I invent spaces to insert characters to tell a story. I think my work becomes a reflection of who I am because I am an avid observer of the world around me.” As an active trail user, she understands how important the rail trail is to the community and how ART brightens up people’s days.
The grind of working full time during a pandemic has definitely worn me down,” McTague said. “No matter how toxic the people you work with are, it is important to settle your mind at the end of the day. Whether reading a book, watching a TV show or movie, or going on walks and taking pictures to post on your instagram, art is all around you each day. Art reinforces our need for human connection.”
To view the auction, visit https://mohawkhudson.org/art/.
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