On any given weekday, cars drive through Peekskill’s main streets, rushing to and from schools and offices. On weekends, they shift directions, often heading to downtown cafes or the sculpture-lined riverfront park. Now, when on the corner of South and Requa Streets, they pass by the Five Elements Arches Murals as well.
It was a four-year process for Christine Knowlton and Candace Winter, the two artists behind this new public art project, to see the murals’ recent installation in the five “empty canvases” of a brick retaining wall along Route 9A.
Knowlton, who has worked in textile design and development as well as media and documentary film production, says she wanted the five concrete spaces to be filled with nature and living things. The two artists developed the project’s vision, with wood, fire, earth, metal and water each being represented by a specific color, shape and season.
“There’s no white space,” Knowlton says of the murals, which also feature words and phrases related to the elements and the seasons they represent. “Everything has meaning.”
Though they had not worked together previously, Winter, a painter and collage artist with years of experience leading student art projects, sensed Knowlton would make the project a reality. Referencing Knowlton’s original concept, Winter explains: “The passion was there about the idea. She was going to get this done.”
Together, the artists responded to an open call for proposals under a New York State Downtown Revitalization Grant that was awarded to the City of Peekskill in 2019. This grant provided the majority of the murals’ funding through a coalition called “Enlighten Peekskill: Peekskill’s Public Art Project.” The coalition includes projects proposed by Hudson Valley MOCA and the Peekskill Arts Alliance. The artists also raised additional funds through a GoFundMe page, received grants from ArtsWestchester and the Peekskill Rotary Club, and held a fundraiser at the Peekskill Brewery that featured a Five Arches Elements IPA.
The community participated in the creative process to realize the artists’ vision. Winter engaged 550 fourth and fifth grade students from Peekskill’s elementary schools and all the art students at Peekskill High School in creating “Eric Carle-style” painted paper before cutting out shapes in the form of the five elements. Winter explains: “The diamond is very linear. The vine grows, the fish swim, the wheat is upwards, and the fire is up and out. I wanted each [element] to have a direction.”
An additional 1,500 people participated in the project through 11 community workshops. “Some people were signing the backs [of the shapes] and writing little notes,” says Winter. Thousands of pieces of paper, they estimate, went into the creation of the five 3’ x 5’ collages.
Once complete, the collages were scanned, printed onto vinyl, coated for UV resistance and installed outdoors on arches that vary in width and from 13’ to 21’ in height.
Knowlton says that they have received “a great sense of nothing but love and positive response from everybody” who views the murals, which overlook the Peekskill train station and Hudson River. “This is a legacy project,” she says. “It was meaningful in so many ways.”
Vida Foubister is an independent journalist in Rye, NY, whose perfect day involves being inspired by art. She is currently president of the board of trustees at the Katonah Museum of Art.