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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 16, 2009

Going out for a walk in the park with canine companions

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

ALTAMONT — The dogs in the park on Maple Avenue won’t fetch a ball or a Frisbee, but they will fetch some looks from visitors, and some perhaps will fetch a handsome price.

One dog is made of mirrors, another of recycled metals, and a third of a wire rug beater.

They are part of the Dogs in the Park Exhibition, the brainchild of Marijo Dougherty.

“America has a long tradition of artists making art from ‘found’ objects, non-traditional materials, cast-off parts and recycled materials as well as more traditional methods of creativity,” Dougherty writes in her curator’s statement, which is posted by the entrance to the park.

The exhibit opens on July 16 as part of a celebration of the park during its first season and closes on Aug. 21 with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. where the public can meet the artists.

On Monday evening, James Gaughan, Altamont’s mayor, and Michael LaMountain, both of whom live on Maple Avenue, were checking out the sculptures. “They don’t have their leashes yet,” quipped the mayor, “so they’re not all here.” He was referring to security wires that will anchor the sculptures so they don’t get taken.

Near the park’s entrance are a collection of whimsical dogs made from recycled metal parts by Jason Schultz, an Albany landscape designer. They are clustered around — what else? — a large red fire hydrant.

Behind them is a deconstructed poodle, fashioned from  a rug-beater by sculptor Larry Kagan. It is mounted on a white board.

“He’s doing us a favor,” said Gaughan of Kagan’s participation in the exhibit. “His pieces sell for $100,000.”

Kagan, an art professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, is represented by the OK Harris art gallery in New York City.

Across the long, narrow park from the poodle is a Labrador retriever made of mirrors, designed by Kathleen Buchanan, modeled on the Buchanans‘ dog, Silvia. Silvia, the Silver Lab, sports a jaunty red bandanna while, at times, her body seems to disappear into the green, green grass that is reflected in the mirror.

Bill and Katherine Buchanan own Altamont Glass and Mirror.

Altamont potter Lars Turin also contributed a sculpture but, being one of the dogs without a leash, it wasn’t in the park on Monday evening.

Finally, Richard Martin, an artist from Schenectady who usually works in iron, made the mayor’s favorite — a quirky dachshund whose long body serves as a mailbox. Martin also made all the stands for the sculptures, Gaughan said.

“So beautiful”

The history of the park property is detailed this week in a letter to the editor from Phyllis Schilling and Keith Lee who spearheaded the project. After the neglected Victorian home at 149 Maple Avenue was torn down in 1961, Altamont built a tennis court on the property and, in 2003, the village board voted to keep the site “forever green.”

The park now boasts an arched iron entry with Helderberg bluestone pavers leading to a carefully created pagoda. The pagoda is lit every evening until midnight.

“It’s so beautiful,” said the mayor.

Beyond that is a playground for tots with a garden nearby where Altamont preschoolers release butterflies.

Tall silver feather grasses border a stream that runs along one edge of the park. They whisper in the gentle breeze, mingling with the music of the creek. Hostas look lush in shaded beds. And a thousand perennials bloom along the northern border of the park.

Gaughan said he admires the efforts of the late Lawrence Warner, who was mayor of Altamont in the 1960s, to conserve the village parks and he hopes to emulate Warner’s “progressive philosophy towards planning and development.” Gaughan e-mailed this excerpt from a 1973 Enterprise retrospective on Warner’s life: “At a 1963 village board meeting, he spoke of the park area as a ‘vital part’ of Altamont’s heritage. He said that while the board should be concerned with ‘day-to-day things like streets, water, sewers, lights and meters,’ it should also be responsible for another element of living in Altamont ‘which concerns itself with homes, the park, trees, the [train] station, the beauty, the atmosphere, the character of the place we live in and our pride in living here.’”

Community effort

Over 100 individuals and organizations raised $17,000 for transforming the Maple Avenue park. Altamont Community Tradition was a major contributor and is also sponsoring the Dogs in the Park Exhibition.

The official opening of the park will be marked with a celebration today, July 16, at 6 p.m. Susan St. Amour with the Albany Symphony Orchestra will perform; the mayor will speak; and students from the Altamont Cooperative Preschool, under the direction of teacher Theresa Lasselle, will hand out programs and cookies.

“They’ve made cookies for a hundred,” said Gaughan.

Ruth Dickerson with the Train Station Quilters will also be on hand.

During the course of the exhibition, in conjunction with the Altamont Free Library, a series of stories about dogs will be read to children in the park. The Monday morning readings will take place at 10 a.m.

In keeping with the theme, the library is also offering “doga,” — yoga for dogs. When told of this, the mayor smiled and said, “Leave it to our Judith,” referring to the library’s director, Judith Wines.

Joan Lue, known as The Story Lady, will read on July 20; Barbara Muhlfelder, president of ACT, will read on July 27; Peter Brabant, principal of the Altamont Elementary School, will read on Aug. 3; and Mayor Gaughan will read on Aug. 10.

Gaughan plans to read to the children from “the marrying bench,” he said. The bench is at the far end of the park, away from the road, and Gaughan said it is like a different world back there.

The wooden bench, he said, was donated by a Maple Avenue resident whose relative used it to propose marriage. The young suitor had the bench placed in Schenectady’s Central Park. A brass plaque on the back of the bench is inscribed with these words, “Julie, Will you marry me, Jamie.”

The proposal worked; Julie accepted; and the couple married.

The bench, though, was vandalized in Central Park, the mayor said, concluding, “It’s safe here.”

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