It is not too difficult to find a trail for hiking or biking along a canal in the Finger Lakes region. Locating one where nature and fine art coexist would seem much harder. In Seneca Falls, however, the Frank J. Ludovico Sculpture Trail on the south side of the Cayuga-Seneca Canal offers just such a venue. Over the past 10 years an abandoned railroad bed has been gradually transformed into a scenic trail with original sculptures. Against the striking natural backdrop, eight three-dimensional artworks have been created in a variety of artistic styles. Their themes are linked with Seneca Falls and include the development of the Women’s Rights Movement, the use of the canal for transportation, and industries founded in the area.
“Amelia’s role was neglected in women’s history,” explains sculptor Cherry Rahn in reference to Amelia Bloomer (1818-1894), the subject of the second sculpture, which was installed on the mile-and-a-half-long trail in 2001. Rahn, a Geneva-based sculptor, had heard of the 19th century feminist, perhaps best known for the provocative loose trousers she wore under her skirts, which were later christened “bloomers.” Amelia Bloomer participated in reform movements and was the nation’s first female newspaper publisher. The Lily, which began in 1848 in Seneca Falls, became a voice for advocates of women’s interests.
The start of the trail
Wilhelmina Pusmucans was the mastermind behind the sculpture trail and invited Rahn to create the Bloomer statue. Pusmucans arrived in Seneca Falls from Buffalo in 1991. After opening a gallery in a 150-year-old home on Cayuga Street, the longtime art lover raised the ire of some residents in her adopted community when she installed two sculptures in her front yard. She was allowed to keep one and then turned to a local realtor for help in finding land for more sculptures. Finally in 1998, former local businessman Frank J. Ludovico, now of Las Vegas, donated a strip of land that was once a Lehigh Valley railroad bed.
The Frank J. Ludovico Sculpture Trail Inc., a not-for-profit corporation headed by Pusmucans, was formed, and the formidable task of clearing the land of brush, roots and trash got underway. The trail opened in 1999 at the south end of the Bridge Street bridge in Seneca Falls. The wide, level path, which dead-ends at Sucker Brook, overlooks a stretch of canal between Cayuga and Seneca Lakes that is used by boaters in the summer.
Originally, the sculpture trail focused primarily on presenting the theme of Women’s Rights through works created by women artists. “Traditionally, sculpture is a male-dominated art form,” asserts Pusmucans. “Women sculptors don’t have opportunities to exhibit their work.” Trumansburg artist Betty Boggs created the trail’s first sculpture, The Status of Women. On two large tablets a carved chain links six symbols, representing the right to vote, the right to hold property, the first Women’s Rights Convention, the right to higher education, equal pay for equal work and fair and equitable divorce laws.
Men do their part
Pusmucans, who was involved in an art gallery in Buffalo before arriving in the Finger Lakes, has also included some male sculptors on the trail. Reno Pisano’s sculpted plaque depicting the head of Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910), the founder of Christian Science and the only American woman to found a lasting American-based religion, was added to the trail in 2001. Brian Pfeiffer of Bennington, Wyoming County, produced a pair of canal diggers, one Irish and the other Italian. The concrete laborers pay tribute to the immigrants who were critical to the building of the canal. Rising from their pedestals at the water’s edge, the realistically rendered workers show Pfeiffer’s painstakingly accurate depiction of 19th century clothing.
Authenticity was also a goal of Cherry Rahn, who admits she “read everything” in an effort to learn more about Amelia Bloomer’s personality and contributions to Women’s Rights. She managed to find one postcard of Bloomer shown wearing a version of the famous costume. Forever protected from the elements by a large-brimmed hat, Bloomer’s figure faces outward, making her more approachable to those walking the trail. Rahn also placed the woman’s hands away from her sides slightly, inviting people to touch and connect with her. Penn Yan sculptor Dexter Benedict assisted with welding the armature used to support the life-size clay sculpture and then cast the figure in bronze. Donors gave $1,000 or more for a small replica of the sculpture to help defray costs.
Wine, women and pumps
In 2005, the sculpture trail gained a towering metal abstract figure called Bacchus, created by another woman artist, Hyon Telarico of Waterloo. Representing the mythological god of wine, it offers a link to the area’s wine industry. Rather than a single form, the sculpture consists of several metal forms outlining a standing figure with raised arms, which represents the goodness of the god. A sitting or crouching figure represents the overindulgent side of the wine god and a goblet at the base of the figures completes the composition. The open spaces of this 30-foot-tall sculpture allow trail-users a largely unobstructed view of the landscape.
Another sculpture represents Seneca Falls’ history in the making. Diana Smith, who was elected mayor of Seneca Falls in 2004, became the subject of a bust by Richard Musso in 2006. “She is the first female mayor of Seneca Falls, the birthplace of women’s rights,” notes Pusmucans.
The trail’s most recent addition, unveiled in October 2007, is Goulds Pumps: Working Man’s Alchemy, a tribute to Goulds Pumps, one of the area’s major employers. A senior programmer/analyst at ITT/Goulds Pumps, Audrey Iwanicki, participated in an employee art show at Syracuse’s Everson Museum, which led to her selection as a trail sculptor. “Pump Man,” as Iwanicki refers to the central figure of her large assemblage, is 8 feet tall with a mechanical torso and human-like face and hands. Actual Goulds Pumps’ parts – casings, impellers, discharge heads and motor adapters – have been fashioned into limbs and accessories surrounding the figure. Iwanicki learned welding to create the work and cast the pieces in a Syracuse University open studio sculpture course. The work is appropriately installed in a clearing across the canal from where the Goulds’ Fall Street plant has stood for 100 years.
Keeping it going
The development of the sculpture trail has seen its share of struggles. Initially, there was resistance from some adjoining property owners as well as some outright acts of vandalism. The need to raise funds is a constant challenge. Pusmucans’ vision, however, has not dimmed.
Trail upkeep, opening more of the trail and adding new sculptures continues. Pusmucans wants to introduce a trail map, add more signage for each sculpture and provide additional granite-hewn benches where people can rest and reflect. While some of the sculptors have donated their work, there is always considerable cost for materials and fabrication, so Pusmucans and the friends of the Frank J. Ludovico Sculpture Trail have frequently turned their energies to fund-raising and grant writing. Bricks inscribed with a donor’s name have been put at the base of some sculptures. Since 2001 there have been three books published as fundraisers: Cookie Cutter Caper, illustrated with “bloomer” cookies decorated by artists; From the Painter’s Palette to Your Palate, with artists’ illustrations of recipes; and Cobblestone Houses of Seneca County in Art Form. Another title on Seneca County wineries is in development. Swedish Hill Winery in Romulus has bottled a Cayuga White wine with a Ludovico Sculpture Trail label and gives a percentage to the sculpture trail.
“It’s a lovely trail along the canal, and the sculptures evoke a stroll through the history of the area,” says Rahn.
For information on the sculpture trail, call 315-568-8204. Tax-deductible donations may be sent to Friends of Ludovico Sculpture Trail, P.O. Box 0566, Seneca Falls, NY 13148.
by Laurel C. Wemett