Art we walk on
The El Camino Trail rug mural invites connections with nature
Rugs have always been considered as a form of art, even though their role is practical and even prosaic—we walk on them, after all—and we’re all familiar with traditional murals painted on walls, whether interior or exterior. In Rochester, rugs go beyond textiles on the floor and paintings on the walks with a stunning “flooral”—a design painted on the pavement at Ridge Road over Route 104 that is part of the El Camino: Butterhole-Seneca Park Trail.
El Camino is a two-and-a-quarter-mile “multiuse pedestrian greenway” of linear stone dust and pavement adapted from an old railroad line that goes from Mill Street in High Falls to the Seneca Park pedestrian bridge. It connects the neighborhoods between Collingwood Drive and Scrantom Street and travels along Conkey Avenue to the Genesee River, providing an off-road connection for residents and visitors and access to Conkey Corner Park, Seneca Park, the Genesee Riverway Trail, the Avenue D Recreation Center, and Buena Vista, an Ibero-American Senior Center. A gap crosses the Genesee River over a trestle and connects to High Falls and a proposed GardenAerial project.
Plans for El Camino began in 2002 as a project led by Genesee Land Trust board member Tom Frey. It was finished in 2012 at about $1.5 million and opened in 2014.
Most of the artwork along the trail “should be by us,” says WallTherapy’s Erich Lehman, as part of an annual public street art show that it hosts.
The rug is a WallTherapy public art project that took the mural concept a few steps, so to speak, beyond the usual, thanks to Jessie Unterhalter and Katey Truhn, a Baltimore, Maryland-based artist team who, according to their website, “[strive] to transform public spaces into playful and vibrant experiences.” The 200-foot rug was one of the artists’ first such projects, as well as one of the early WallTherapy elements of the trail. “This was right at the beginning of when they were just starting to paint on the ground, if I recall correctly—it was definitely pretty early on (for both the trail and the artists); maybe their third ground piece,” Lehman says.
Their 2013 contribution to the artwork on the trail, and the city’s public artwork canvas as a whole, remains “one of our favorite murals,” says Lorna Wright, director of conservation programs at the Genesee Land Trust, which provided some of the funding for creation of the trail, along with other support. Funders include the City of Rochester and the Federal Highway Administration, New York State Department of State, New York State Department of Transportation, and Eastman Kodak Company via the Nature Conservancy.
Underhalter and Truhn came to the attention of WallTherapy through its usual process, Lehman says: He and founder Ian Wilson “generally find artists through people we know recommending other artists. We are aficionados of street art and often find artists via Instagram or reaching out to people who are doing interesting things.”
Wilson and Lehman have done the WallTherapy’s public outdoor art festival every year since it began in 2011 and took it to Berlin, Germany, in 2016. The first year, “we did twenty-nine murals that week,” Lehman recalls with a laugh. “Now we average six to fifteen artists for the festival,” which is held the last week of July.
Participating artists get paid even though WallTherapy is a “hundred-percent volunteer organization,” Lehman says; it’s funded through crowdsourcing—“which is hard”—and private donations, including Sherwin-Williams providing the specialty paint as a sponsor. “If there’s a gap, it comes out of our pockets.”
The Sherwin-Williams paint is weather-resistant and requires minimal maintenance. “We do some touch ups of what we can fix,” Lehman says. “There’s been very little vandalism” of the various art elements of the trail.
The purpose of the WallTherapy public art project is “simple,” Lehman says. “One of our goals is to provide arts education. People in the neighborhoods along the trails don’t see nature often. Our projects explain nature and help people understand and appreciate it.”
Rochester native and award-winning freelance writer/editor Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (writerruth.com) recently relocated to St. Louis, Missouri, but continues to stay in touch with her hometown. She received a Big Pencil Award from Writers & Books for inspiring and contributing to the “advancement, creation, and understanding of literature in the Rochester community” and will be a speaker at WAB’s second annual Ladder literary conference here in June 2019.