Architecture as Art...THE WAY OF ELEGANCE

An “art-in” on the East Side of Buffalo with Painting for Preservation

Touching the beauty of weathered and worn places is an exercise in the practice of wabi-sabi, an ancient form that acknowledges three things–nothing is perfect, nothing lasts, and nothing is finished. I experienced a bit of this at a saturday morning art-in. 

Walk a few houses east on Utica from the lively hub where the Metro Rail and Family Dollar converge on Main. On the north side of the street stand three queenly homes of the Victorian era. A wide driveway leads into an expansive shared back area. Numbers 36, 44, and 50 have faded paint in basic house paint colors–Sky blue and white, brick red and white, sandy beige and brown.

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An assembly of artists and curiosity seekers surveyed the area around the three homes for picture-taking, painting, drawing. This was a time to appreciate what was and what might be again—capture some of the richness. Scaffolding and legal permits posted on the windows indicate that someone has staked a claim on reviving the residences. Perhaps they will once again be elegant “painted ladies” with colorful contrasting hues.

Large homes are not in demand anymore. They require constant maintenance. They are expensive to heat. We do not have families of eight children anymore. Affordable housing is what we need now. There are so many reasons why these grand homes have fallen into a state of disrepair. But step back a moment to see them in their glory–imagine a time when horse-pulled carts of ice and home goods frequented the premises. Inhabitants from large prominent families filled the rooms with voices, music, and laughter. They sat out on the porches in wicker rockers during warm months. Flowers bloomed in the beds below. Fragrant scents of baking and simmering wafted from the open kitchen windows. Fruit pies cooled on window sills. The back yard was a lush garden of tomatoes, corn, beans, and berries. A manicured lawn invited games of croquet and horseshoes. The family sat for summer meals on wooden benches around a long table under shady trees. They packed picnic lunches and loaded their Model T automobiles for day trips to the surrounding waters and countryside.

I wonder about the large boulders that edge the driveway. Who hauled them to Utica Street? Where did the pink-streaked rocks come from? Abandoned now, the surroundings are scattered with shattered glass, food wrappers, hypodermic needles, discarded personal items–glove, sock, jacket, pink plastic sunglasses. Squatters likely took shelter there once the renters left.

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Satellite dishes mark the facades like a disease—evidence of dwellers during the past decade or so, a time of decline. Neighbors recall the scene of a brutal murder in number 44.

The morning event was a gathering of bicycles, folding chairs, easels, wide-brimmed hats. A

Chilly Billy Ice Cream

truck parked in front of the houses. Neighborhood children explored art materials offered by visiting artists. Minglers watched as artful renderings took shape.  

This Painting for Preservation art-in was an invitation to the community to recognize the character, beauty, and history in an unlikely block of the city. A chance to engage with the architecture and people is also a time to notice the endless array of invisibles—the details that are easily overlooked.

Quiet and serene at 8:30am, by noon, the block was bustling with the ordinary activity of dog walkers, baby buggies, strollers, and a stream of traffic moved along Utica. The morning resulted in a variety of artwork, new understanding and associations.

The row of empty houses received a good dose of attention through appreciation. They stand full of possibility. I took photos, sketched a bit, and took a few field notes–spent several hours on a block I previously might have avoided.   


April 2013


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