SCHENECTADY – A wondrous metropolis has taken up residence at the Schenectady County Public Library.
With intricately decorated replicas of buildings and tiny people, it’s a clever and whimsical installation called “The City of Dreams, Population: Everyone.”
Encased in plexiglass, it’s on display near the children’s section and includes depictions of familiar landmarks and a few more fantastical ones, as well as people from all different backgrounds and representations.
Vischer Ferry artist Jennifer Wojtowicz spent the last two years carefully planning, drawing and painting the city, which first went on display earlier this month. Wojtowicz, who holds a BFA from Alfred University, is the author of “The Boy Who Grew Flowers” and has been teaching artists with disabilities since 1996.
The inspiration for “The City of Dreams” came in part from her family and her fascination with building small cities and worlds from toys.
“My son really [loved] building things and I did too. I think playing with blocks with kids is one of the most fun things,” Wojtowicz said.
She created a set of building blocks for her son years ago and then, years later, she and her husband, artist Marcus Kwame Anderson, made a tiny city for their daughter and added people into the mix. After Wojtowicz and Anderson were invited to an artist’s toy show, she got the idea to make a more elaborate city that went beyond their family.
“This city that I made for our daughter represents us and our family and if I was going to make something to show, I would want little kids to come up and be able to see themselves in it or something that looks like their family . . . It just developed into this idea,” Wojtowicz said.
In early 2020 she secured an artist grant through Saratoga Arts for the materials and spent the pandemic bringing it to life.
Some of the buildings, like the Stephen and Harriet Myers Residence and Guru’s Supermarket, will be familiar to Capital Region residents.
The former is the first building she constructed and well before doing so she researched and toured the historic home, which is located on Livingston Ave. in Albany and was a headquarters for the Underground Railroad in the 1850s.
“When I started building it, [I knew] it needed to be a little bigger than I had thought that it would be,” Wojtowicz said. “This is such an important building . . . I really want it to have presence and when people look at it . . . I want them to be able to see the details.”
The building rests on the right-hand corner of the display; each window is beautifully decorated and there’s a stunning mural depicting the Myers on the back.
Wojtowicz also included replicas of The Harriet Tubman House in Auburn and Doris Records in Buffalo, an important community fixture since 1962, as well as the Frederick Allen Lodge in Saratoga Springs and Riverview Orchards in Rexford.
The landmarks aren’t necessarily direct reflections of reality, as Wojtowicz plays with scale and design to bring out their spirit and highlight why they’re important to the communities around them. Riverview, for instance, isn’t an actual orchard but a stand and there’s a replica of owner Isabel Prescott selling apples and pies.
“I’ve always loved playing with perspective and scale . . . because I just think that it makes things more interesting and fun. So it gives you that sense of the internal life, as opposed to like things as they appear in reality,” Wojtowicz said.
The landscape is original and extraordinary, with a towering purple structure toward the heart of the city. There are residents representing a myriad of cultures dotting each of the outcroppings.
Many of the tiny wooden people that populate the city depict real counterparts, including people who have often been underrepresented in New York State’s history.
“We have such a diverse group of people here and I really wanted that to show,” Wojtowicz said.
That includes people like Niio Perkins, a Native American beadwork artist who does traditional and contemporary Iroquois beadwork, based in Akwesasne, N.Y.
During the process, Wojtowicz sent progress photos and sought feedback from many of the people she was depicting.
“It was a nice back and forth in the process. [I’m] trying to really capture the spirit of that person and their work and their importance to the community and to the state at large,” Wojtowicz said.
Alongside the city, which is about two by three feet, there’s a selection of children’s books that pertain to some of the buildings and people included in “The City of Dreams.” There’s also a map of the city.
“My hope is that when people look at it they will see themselves or their family somehow reflected,” Wojtowicz said. “I wanted kids to see themselves because when you see yourself reflected in media . . . you feel wanted and seen and included. That was the experience I wanted kids to have when they see [this] and I also think it’s important for us to think about other people outside ourselves.”
“The City of Dreams” will be on view at the Central Library through the end of June and is well worth coming back to week after week to discover something new.
“It’s an invitation to see each other as friends and neighbors,” Wojtowicz said.
For anyone who can’t get out to the library, visit The City of Dreams YouTube channel for video tours and progress reports of the city.