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Checking out the art: a guest at the opening reception at the Saratoga train station. Photo by: John Whipple

A Spiffy Depot and Public Art, Too

When the Capital District Transportation Authority set out to revamp the charmless brick box greeting Amtrak passengers stepping off the train in Saratoga Springs, it did more than spruce up the seating and add a coffee shop. Working with the Saratoga County Arts Council, CDTA drew on the city’s image of itself as a cultural way station between New York and Montreal to create a new showcase for local artists. The result, a combination of architectural ornamentation and exhibit space, may prove as notable for the precedent it sets as for its effect on the facility itself.

Unveiled at a reception last Thursday, April 1, the decorative artwork created by Groupe DMM, a collaboration of painter Anne Diggory and sculptors Alice Manzi and Beverley Mastrianni, consists of a 54-foot-by-15-inch silver-on-green brushed-aluminum frieze over the front entrance and a crisscross linoleum inlay, also in the station colors, on the waiting room floor leading to the two platform doors. Track lighting along one wall will allow for ongoing exhibits as part of the Arts Council’s Art in Public Places program. A future retail space will house an exhibit of individual work by the DMM artists until June 15.

Guided by project architect Janet Null of Argus Architecture and Preservation in Troy and a panel appointed by the Arts Council, the three city-based artists managed to incorporate images of New York, Saratoga, and the Adirondacks into their designs.

“It goes from geometry to nature,” Diggory explained.

The frieze is a flowing series of vignettes that starts with the Big Apple’s angular skyline and merges into such recognizable local landmarks as Spit and Spat, the popular Congress Park fountain. Also included were thoroughbreds, ballet dancers (“we discussed whether to put that in,” Manzi said, noting that the symbols used had to “be meaningful 20 years from now”) and the mansions along Union Avenue. A mansard roof is a nod to the Victorian railroad station that anchored downtown for generations until the tracks were moved to avoid busy street crossings in 1956. At the far end, Adirondack peaks refer to a plan to bring back tourist train service to the mountains.

Although it was the first time they had worked together, each of DMM’s members has done commissions before and was well-known to the panel that awarded the station job. The artists themselves seemed proud that, two years later, they’re still friends.

“The collaboration was easier because each of us has been working for 25 years. We didn’t have anything to prove,” Diggory said. “But because we’re such strong individuals, we had to learn to give and take.”

Perhaps harder to deal with were the limits of the long, narrow space they were allotted by the architect. Three- dimensional elements of the frieze had to be simplified until they became basic silhouettes in order to remain recognizable.

“There’s so much you could have done on different sections of the building,” said Manzi. “But there was no option of that. By the time it got to us, it was, ‘This is your job.’”

Still, CDTA may add more art to the grounds, including a possible sculpture garden for the station’s grassy plaza. About 1 percent of the rehab project’s total $5.9 million budget went to art, according to project manager Kristina Younger. Sculptor Manzi would like to see that formula, already a requirement in New York City, become law statewide. She recently convinced state Assemblyman Paul Tonko (D-Amsterdam) to sponsor a bill earmarking 1 percent of all state-funded building projects toward art as a way to keep upstate artists busy.

“Here’s jobs for us, guys!” Manzi proclaimed over the clamor of a northbound train pulling in.

—Kathryn Ceceri

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