For those with a yen for the visual arts, the Greater Ithaca Art Trail is something of an autumn rite. As the weather turns cooler and the foliage changes color, the studios of numerous Tompkins County artists and craftspeople open to accept visitors. Taking place during two weekends in October, the event is free of charge to the public. Visitors can drive across scenic country roads or concentrate on site clusters in Ellis Hollow, Trumansburg, and other locations.
The roster of artists changes annually with many artists coming back year after year. This year’s listing includes 42 sites (some featuring two artists) and will take place on Oct. 10 and 11 and Oct. 17 and 18. This year—a first—five artists will not be open during these weekends. According to program administrator Robin Schwartz, the goal was to make the trail accessible to artists who might not be available in October. Editor's Note: the print version of this article listed the wrong dates for the Open House.
The art trail dates back to 1999, the brainchild of four local makers: photographer Andrew Gillis, jeweler Micky Roof, and sculptors Bill Hastings and Deborah Jones. The four were concerned about the difficulty in tracking down the area’s richly reputed creative talent, and they spent a few years researching and organizing before the event was finally launched.
According to Schwartz, “their original intention … was that visitors be able to experience artists in their home turf—their studio—and be able to see them make their art. And they wanted artists to be able to connect with visitors that were coming into town.” Most of the artists work on their own property, explained Schwartz. She cited successful husband and wife photographers Dede Hatch and Jon Reis as exceptions—both maintain separate workspaces.
Schwartz co-directs the Community Arts Partnership (Tompkins County’s arts council) and has administered the program since 2002. The event is largely funded by fees collected from the artists, with additional sponsorship provided by local businesses and arts organizations.
According to Schwartz, the nature of the program has stayed constant since its inception but the response has evolved. “It hasn’t changed,” she said. “One thing that has changed is the public’s perception of what an art trail is.” In 1999, the pioneering local organization was able to claim the URL www.artrail.com. “Now there’s art trails all over the world,” Schwartz explained, citing programs around New York State and Pennsylvania and as far away as Australia. According to her, sales figures go up every year.
The art trail is also open year around by appointment. (You can contact the artists directly; see information at the bottom.) A recent innovation is the monthly “First Saturday” events in which a small rotating group of artists open their studios on the first weekend of every month.
Another long-standing tradition is the yearly “Art Trail Show” at the State of the Art Gallery, Ithaca’s fine arts cooperative gallery. This year’s exhibit will take place from Sept. 30 through Nov. 1 with a First Friday reception on Oct. 2. (See their website soag.org/ for more details.) The event is an excellent way of previewing the range of artists that the trail showcases.
Some personal favorites of mine—a biased list, so be sure do your own research and take some chances. Stained glass artist Linna Dolph works in two-dimensional as well as sculptural formats and has a lively graphic sensibility as well as an engaging sense of humor. Abstract painter Barbara Mink combines richly layered markmaking and color with an imaginative sensibility rooted in landscape. Dede Hatch is one of Ithaca’s most loved photographers with work in the collection of Cornell’s Johnson Museum—a distinction also shared with the woodcut artist Jenny Pope, whose quirky and formally inventive explorations of flora and fauna are another must-see. John Lyon Paul creates interactive kinetic sculptures and brilliantly colored visionary abstract paintings.
More information about the Art Trail can be found at www.arttrail.com, by calling 607-273-5072 x20, or by picking up one of their brochures—available at the CAP office in Center Ithaca and numerous other locations.