GLENS FALLS – Artist Hannah Williams has spent the last few weeks 30-some feet off the ground, with a paintbrush in hand, bringing to life a sweeping mural that showcases some of the creatures and native plants around Glens Falls.
Williams, who grew up in Queensbury, has been working as an artist for more than a decade, both independently and for a time at Adirondack Studios, a scenic design studio in Argyle. More recently, she’s worked on murals throughout the Capital Region.
Seeing downtown Glens Falls adorned with public art has been a longtime dream of Williams and, with funding through the Downtown Revitalization Initiative, it’s becoming a reality.
Her mural, located at 20 Warren St., joins another that was recently completed by Jesse Melanson at 144 Glen St.
The Gazette spoke with Williams last week about some of the challenges she’s faced and the benefits of public art.
Q: What got you into art?
A: I have always been into art naturally, since a young age and always had an interest in it. My one grandmother made me watch Bob Ross videos growing up. Both parents are pretty creative. So I’ve always been drawn to art and always took art classes in school.
Once I got into high school, I had the best art teacher. She really helped foster my confidence in my creativity. Ever since high school, I’ve just been serious about it.
I’ve been a practicing artist for 15-plus years now, whether it’s drawing or painting, and I’ve been a muralist for a decade. [Most] of it self-taught. I did go to ACC in 2011 and graduated with an associate’s in liberal arts and 2013. I took art classes there. But there’s no school for being a muralist.
Q: How did this particular mural project come along?
A: I have desperately wanted Glens Falls to do more with public art for the past decade. I honestly never thought I would see the day that Glens Falls would welcome murals here; it’s been a pretty difficult process. Politics and different things come into play, where it just really wasn’t welcomed for a long period of time.
But there’s been the trade of the baton to new people and officials for the city and … new minds are welcoming public art.
This mural project came about from the revitalization grant that Glens Falls received almost 10 years ago that is finally coming into play now. They took a certain portion of that budget and turned it into an arts grant so that they could hire a few artists to create murals and an arts trail.
This past fall, they put out a call for muralists. I submitted and was selected.
Q: Can you talk me through the thinking behind your design?
A: With my public art, I really enjoy [depicting] nature because I’m finding that people really connect when there’s something nature-based. And I love any opportunity that I can create a space for people to connect back with nature and possibly even educate them on different plants or animals. Sometimes I label what I am painting if it’s flowers or plants.
The original design that got approved was all native flowers you could find within the area of Glens Falls. But once they landed the building owner, [the building owner] wanted a little bit more to be portrayed.
We all sat down, and [asked ourselves] What can represent Glens Falls? Glens Falls is at the foothills of the Adirondacks. Let’s focus on keeping some native flowers and then let’s bring some animals and other elements to it.
We narrowed it down to an owl a bear, the moon, constellations, lightning bugs and native flowers.
Q: What challenges have you had along the way?
A: This has been my largest project to date and the biggest challenge is just learning to stand up for myself, learning to be my own advocate. I also had to certify myself to operate a boom lift and there’s been social obstacles I had to go through that were frustrating.
I’m honored and proud that I’m the first woman to paint a large building here in Glens Falls and because of that there [are] some extra hurdles I have to get through to get to where I’m at. A lot of people would come up to me and assume that my boyfriend would be operating the boom lift for me because he’s a man and I’m a woman. Silly things like that.
Other than that, the challenge really lies with doing the actual work, being out here in the elements, in the direct sun, [and] having to make sure I’m all prepared. There’s always obstacles every day.
Q: What do you want people to take away from the mural?
A: Everyone’s been very positive since I started the project. But prior, there was some pushback. There’s some people out here that believe that the buildings should remain how they are and they want to preserve the history. But the beautiful thing is that they’ve been able to learn what public art is and what mural-making is along the way.
I hope that people [realize] this is a possibility, and can be done right in whatever town that you’re in. It’s not a scary thing to embrace the change and the beauty that murals and public art can bring. There are economic benefits and community morale [benefits]. It just lightens and brightens everybody’s moods. It’s a way for people to interact and beautify an area.
“Getting To Know …” is a weekly feature spotlighting people making a difference in the lives of others. If there’s someone you think we should feature, let us know by emailing us at [email protected]