LOCKPORT – Ellen Martin, who is building a place for herself in the community as Lockport’s leading purveyor of art-oriented fun, has unveiled a slate of events starting Memorial Day weekend that offers a variety of experiences for residents.
This year’s focus will be rocking chairs, along with U.S. geography and simulations of famous artworks.
The business owner, who once described herself as a “recovering lawyer,” last year organized a program of used pianos being painted in various styles and left outdoors at several downtown locations for people to play if they wanted. She also posted a chalkboard on the wall of City Hall for people to finish the sentence, “I am important to Lockport because …”
Another outdoor chalkboard during the summer gave people a chance to write down their dreams. And during the winter, Martin organized the “yarn-bombing” of light poles and trees all over the city with knitted and crocheted objects.
Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey said, “Ellen has some great ideas for events this summer that I know will add to the vibrancy and excitement of downtown Lockport for both residents and visitors. I know people especially raved about the Chalk Festival she organized last year.”
Martin, who operates a bicycle rental shop, Sweet Ride Rentals, 51 Canal St., likes the word “sweet,” so as in the past, most of this year’s promotions will contain that word in their titles.
The exception is the rocking chair promotion, called “Rock the Locks.” It’s similar to last year’s piano-painting effort, only with rocking chairs.
“The goal is just a little whimsy,” Martin said. “The pianos went over really well.”
In an effort to stir things up, Martin delivered red rockers to McCaffrey’s office and to the offices of Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster and North Tonawanda Mayor Robert G. Ortt. She issued challenges to the mayors to have the chairs decorated to enter a Facebook contest where Web-surfers can vote on the best chair.
Martin said about 20 chairs already have been lined up at sites in downtown Lockport, and she anticipates more participation, because a rocking chair is cheaper and easier to move than a piano.
They also might be more useful at the end of the day than a piano that has been left out in the rain. “Some of them really got beaten up and were disposed of,” Martin acknowledged.
Meanwhile, the female clerks at Martin’s bike shop will be taking part in an art simulation effort on Saturdays. They will don makeup and costumes and pose in frames as they attempt to simulate the look of some famous works, such as Johannes Vermeer’s “The Girl With the Pearl Earring” or John Singer Sargent’s “Madame X,” the famous portrait of a Parisian socialite in a low-cut black gown.
Also set up in the shop by Memorial Day will be backdrops where visitors can insert themselves into such paintings as Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” or Rene Magritte’s “Son of Man.” That’s the one where a green apple covers the face of a man in a bowler hat.
“Quite frankly, it’s a goof. It’s a fun thing to do,” Martin said. The workers will pose on Saturdays starting on Independence Day weekend, when the Lockport Community Market opens for the summer on Canal Street in front of the bike shop.
Martin won’t pose. “Other than ‘Whistler’s Mother,’ I don’t think I’d fit in,” she laughed.
By Memorial Day weekend, Martin intends to have a 20-by-30-foot map of the United States stenciled on the street in front of her store, leading to the ramp to the Erie Canal locks. It’s meant to be a geography lesson. “We’ll be able to power-wash it off,” Martin said. “It’ll probably last a little while.”
That was true of the chalk art on the sidewalk last summer, an effort that will be repeated with the second annual Sweet Chalk Festival on Aug. 16-17. Artist Carolyn Schultz, who last year did the Mona Lisa in chalk, will be back, along with crowd favorite Joe Mahley and artist Eric Maruscak, whose specialty is depicting superheroes in 3-D chalk drawings.
The weekend after the chalk fest, a “Sweet Quilting Bee” will be held, as members of the Kenan Center and Dale Association quilting groups make a story quilt about the life of Aaron Mossell, the 19th century African-American businessman who is credited with desegregating Lockport schools. Earlier this year, the Board of Education declined to rename North Park Middle School for him.
McCaffrey said, “Ellen’s creative spirit and passion for Lockport show in the events that she is organizing, and will contribute to the energy surrounding the Flight of Five restoration and new business development in the historic canal district.”
Martin closed her other business, Sweet Sixteen Cafe, at the end of February for family reasons. She said she also intends to close the bike rental store at the end of this tourist season, but she had hopes someone might take it over. “It’s a fun business, a good location,” she said.