Art and nature come together for a project in full bloom
It may come as no surprise that the Community Garden in Batavia is filled with colorful flowers, vegetables and foliage.
That scenery, however, is a flow of artistry painted on each side of five panels displayed at the garden on MacArthur Drive. At 8 feet tall by 4 feet wide, the panels complement the 50 or so plots of land — dotted with colorful flowers and vegetables — being tended to by local residents and organizations.
Artist David Burke of Bergen was commissioned to do the paintings. He is pleased with the outcome and hopes that the public will visit the garden area to see them.
“I just wish I started doing what I'm doing 30 years ago or more, but just the last six, seven years I had a little more free time. I was homeschooling our kids for a while two years ago so I was just always kind of busy, but I just realized I loved painting,” Burke said during an interview at the garden. “And so about seven years ago I just got to do way more of it, and the more I do it, the better I get, and the more I enjoy it.”
Community Garden folks had planned — twice, actually — for an unveiling celebration at the site, however, Mother Nature, as she’s known to do on occasion, had other plans. Rain and wind forced organizers to postpone each unveiling, including a week ago. Jocelyn Sikorski, executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension, said that perhaps it will be moved to next spring.
In the meantime, spectators can view the artwork from the park side and the high school side. The project was grant-funded and the original idea was “to bring some art up to the garden,” garden committee secretary Richard Beatty said.
Beatty worked on the state grant application for $5,000, which was awarded through Genesee-Orleans Regional Arts Council in December 2021. The money was used for the purchase of materials and to hire Burke — through a committee application process — for 10 panels. They were going to be individual hangings, but discussions about strong winds and how to best place them resulted in five panels, with one mural on each side of tall wooden backboards just inside the southern fence.
The artwork took Burke about two and a half weeks to complete, beginning with one and then working his way down the line so that all 10 were a cohesive mural, as originally planned. A member of GO Art! and artist for both indoor and outside works at the East Main Street site, Bergen Library and Grass Roots, Burke’s muse was often nature — “we did a lot of landscaping and gardening” — he said about himself and his wife.
He recalled having done his first oil painting at 10, and that it was so much fun. As he grew older, though, it became more of an “off and on” thing, the 66-year-old said.
Burke has more recently gotten into abstract expressionism versus what’s in the garden: very large, colorful, unmistakable creations of nature. He wishes that he had taken more art classes at Genesee Community College, where he attended in the mid-70s, he said.
“I just really, really enjoy the tactile physical act of painting,” he said.
Working out the concerns of wind wreaking a little havoc with the artwork, and transfer of the garden from the city to Genesee County’s Cooperative Extension took a little time, Beatty said, but garden committee members are happy with the final layout.
“I think everything turned out very well. They look great,” he said. David is set up so that … they're a nice theme on both sides. So this year, you know, we'll see one side and next year we'll see the other side, and having a vantage point for the folks up at the ballgame.”
The painted panels are situated between a chainlink fence and an audience of pumpkins, vivid pink zinnias and cornstalks. Gardeners are planning to augment those with sunflowers next year, Beatty said.
Committee member and Master Gardener RaeAnn Engler appreciates the grassroots type of project the murals have become.
“The gardeners get to see it and it's colorful and it's cheerful, and I guess that's it. It just accentuates the garden, and in what we're doing here, and it's a mix of vegetables and flowers, and color. The garden itself is to see it when we first plant it is so it's so neat to watch it develop,” committee Engler said. “So far we've got corn growing in front of the panels, which are kind of, one could say they're blocking it, but others say it's accentuating it. It's just really neat how integrated it is.”
The city of Batavia was the original recipient of the grant since the garden was still under city ownership in 2021, however, earlier this year City Council voted to transfer the garden over to Cooperative Extension since it seemed more aligned with the Extension’s goals and Master Gardener program. That transfer has also opened up the garden and board memberships to anyone from Genesee County.
The Community Garden is “a very inexpensive proposition,” Beatty said, listing the prices for three different options ranging from $25 to $35.
“There's full water service. We have a whole bunch of master gardeners that are available for consultation for bugs and the various things that afflict one's garden. So the garden itself is great,” he said. “I have to admit, I was a little dubious of the whole artwork thing, but boy, it looks terrific. It really, really does.”
“A nice plus is to give David some more work … it helps an artist continue to be an artist,” Beatty said. “Sure, that's very important.”
Photos: Artist David Burke of Bergen shows the artwork he painted for the Community Garden in Batavia. The garden is on MacArthur Drive, next to the tennis courts behind Batavia High School. Photos by Joanne Beck.