Photo by Dave Warner – Sterzinar Park in Canal Place, Little Falls.
by Katie Drake
For decades the City of Little Falls has been home to a unique piece that is considered a major work of art.
You’ve certainly driven or walked by it. You may have sat on a bench in the park and admired it. If you were a child not so long ago, you might even remember standing on the pebbles underneath it and looking up the seemingly enormous structure.
Many people can identify it, but do you know the name? If this was a game of Little Falls Trivial Pursuit… would you crumble under the pressure?
On the base of the south side of the sculpture in Sterzinar Park is a small gold plaque with the name of this piece: “Celebration.”
You may love it or not, but having a reaction is the point of art. Mary Ellen McGillan, Executive Director of the Mohawk Valley Center for the Arts, agrees. “Art moves people. In some instances, it delights and entertains. Art affects individuals differently. It is not one size fits all. Art is meant to provoke a response in the viewer. Art in public spaces is meant to provoke conversations both pro and con.”
Sometimes, especially in small working-class communities like Little Falls, art is viewed as something for the elite. The city of Little Falls is very lucky to have a good number of public art pieces that are accessible to everyone. We have sculpture, we have poetry, we have decorative benches, we have painted murals, murals made of recycled plastic, and even the felt mural along Main Street. We’re lucky. It makes our little City interesting for the folks that reside here and memorable for the many tourists that visit.
To me, “Celebration” represents many things. It celebrates our skilled blue-collar workers who have mastered their trade, particularly in the art of welding. It celebrates community and the generosity of the people of Little Falls. It celebrates fine art and the creativity it takes to take an idea and nurture it into fruition. It celebrates two important anniversaries this year, the anniversary of Sterzinar Park and the 40th Anniversary of the Mohawk Valley Center for the Arts.
Here are some facts about “Celebration” sourced from several articles in the Little Falls Evening Times that were published in 1986.
“Celebration” was created by Washington DC metal sculptor Christopher Gardner in 1986. He was 35 years old when he completed the work. “Celebration” is made of stainless steel and now sits on the former Allegro Shoe property at the corner of South Ann and West Mill Streets. “Celebration” weighs about 2,400 pounds and stands approximately 25 feet high. It was gifted from the artist to the City of Little Falls and the MV Center for the Arts.
Gardner himself was quoted, “The sculpture celebrates the spirit of Little Falls and the Mohawk Valley. The people here are so open and friendly, they treat you as members of their family.”
Why Little Falls?
Christopher Gardner, and his wife Kim, came to Little Falls on invitation from the MV Center for the Arts as part of its Visual Arts Residency Program. The program was supported by a $3,000 grant from the Maryland-based Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation. The Cherry-Burrell Corporation Manager and VP, Bob Ritz, helped make this possible by providing Gardner stainless steel scrap metal from the factory and a work space in the factory to build his piece. The Gardners stayed with 5 or 6 families during their time in Little Falls, including Mr. and Mrs. Burrell Fisher. Burrell served as Manager of Design Engineering at the Cherry-Burrell plant.
Little Falls resident Jayne Ritz remembers the Gardners and their time in Little Falls, “There was this wonderful thing going on in the factory. The working man and the artist coming together. They must have both thought, ‘what’s going on?’ But they learned respect for each other. I don’t believe at that time that Garnder had ever made a full-sized metal sculpture himself. He’d make a maquette (sketch design), and it would go to a foundry it would be made there. This was a different experience for him too. The artist and factory welder worked side by side, learning from one another for 3-4 months. I know Gardner had such admiration for the men on the factory floor and their skill.”
The work was constructed at the Cherry Burrell Plant and was originally placed on the banks of the Barge Canal between Lock 17 and the Theodore S. Wind Bridge. Two years after its inception, the Mohawk Valley Center for the Arts requested that the pieced be moved to a more prominent location because the vegetation was beginning to obscure it from public view.
At that time, two important things had just happened. Little Falls resident Linda Vincent said, “The Allegro shoe factory was being torn down, and there was now a big wide-open space where the factory had once stood. At the same time, the Canal Place Development Association had just formed and was significant in cultivating what this new space could be. They had a study done, and it was decided the best use for the space was a park. Bob Noble was the Architect, and Cindy Olsen was the designer.” This is how Sterzinar Park came to be. Shortly after its inception, it was decided around 1988 that “Celebration” would have a new home in the newly formed Sterzinar Park.
“Celebration” was the inspiration turned focal point this past holiday season for Celebration of Lights, the new official tree lighting that’s part of Christmas in Little Falls. The entire Sterzinar Park was lit up by a team of amazing volunteers, and the community came out to celebrate. And there in the center, Celebration stood tall, bathed in colorful lights. If you missed it last year, make sure you come to see the magic of Sterzinar Park all lit up for the holidays and the celebration Friday night of the weekend event in December.
“Celebration” is the result of combining workmanship and artistry. It fittingly sits on the site of the old Allegro shoe factory, steps from the Arts Center, and is visible to everyone who drives or walks to work at Feldmeier Equipment, formerly Cherry Burrell. Next time you find yourself near “Celebration,” take a moment, sit down for a minute on a bench, and look at it. Really look. What kind of reaction does this major work of art create in you?
The opportunity to highlight the great people of Little Falls and share her personal perspectives and some humor from time to time piqued her interest, and here we are.
Just ask her, and she’ll tell you that after growing up in Millers Mills, a population of 25+ (according to the sign), Little Falls was just the right size. Katie is the oldest of her two brothers and five sisters.
In 2020 Katie and her best friend Chris began their greatest adventure yet with the birth of their sweet and sassy son Nolan who makes them laugh every day.
Katie loves to snowmobile, golf, hike, and travel in her free time.
If you have feedback on one of her articles or an idea for a story, please feel free to reach out to Katie at KatherineDrakeLF@gmail.com. She would love to hear from you.
If this article leaves you wanting more, or you are just bored out of your mind, feel free to check out other articles she has contributed by visiting Katie Drake Archives – My Little Falls.