New sculptures have been added to the Frank J. Ludovico Sculpture Trail
by Laurel C. Wemett
Fresh air, blue skies, and gentle waters. Abundant flora and fauna. The Finger Lakes Region offers individuals and small groups a natural environment ideal for walking, biking, birding, fishing, painting, photo-taking, or just kicking back. In Seneca Falls, the Frank J. Ludovico Sculpture Trail, bordering the south bank of the Cayuga-Seneca Canal for a mile and a half west of Bridge Street to Sucker Brook, has all that and more. For over 20 years, a former canal towpath that later became a bed for the Lehigh Valley Railroad has been transformed into a trail punctuated by original art work.
The Ludovico Sculpture Tail owes its existence to the vision and dedication of its founder, Wilhelmina Pusmucans. An immigrant from Latvia and now a naturalized U.S. citizen, Pusmucans regards Seneca Falls, the birthplace of women’s rights, as a perfect location for women sculptors to exhibit their works. After arriving in Seneca Falls in 1991 from Buffalo, where she operated an art gallery, she sought a park-like locale to accommodate multiple sculptures. In 1998, thanks to businessman Frank J. Ludovico, the canal side property that now bears his name was donated to Pusmucans for a scenic art trail. The Friends of Frank J. Ludovico Sculpture Trail, a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization, was formed; brush, overgrown trees, and undergrowth were removed; and the first sculpture, The Status of Women, 1848-1920 by Betty Boggs, was installed on the trail in 1999.
Today’s trail continues to evolve thanks to Pusmucans, talented artists, and dedicated volunteers who oversee its development and maintenance. The next generation—Elizabeth Rossetti, Margaret Pusmucans, and Ludwig Pusmucans—continues to realize their mother’s project. Sculptures begin with an artist’s conception, perhaps as a model, and are then fabricated and installed once finances are secured. Donations, fundraisers, grants, and town funds support the organization’s mission to provide “opportunities for artists to create and install outdoor sculptures which explore historic and contemporary issues of society.”
In Spring 2008, a Life in the Finger Lakes story featured eight sculptures then in place on the trail. Now, the number has doubled. Six painted murals depicting the region from its glacial formation to contemporary recreational destination have also been added. “People are enjoying the trail,” says Rossetti, who stresses the positive impact of artworks. Personally, she likes adding new seedlings and plantings along the pathway.
Thematically, many of the trail’s sculptures honor women’s rights and have been sculpted by women. Stylistically, they are wide-ranging. Miriam Nelson of Connecticut created Freedom Spirit, a non-objective steel aluminum sculpture dedicated in 2016. Its graceful looping red form is visible from many vantage points. Another newer addition is Machine Lace by Buffalo-based artist Sarah Fonzi. The delicate, semi-circular shape suggests a lady’s fan. Its curving decorative lines artfully allow the trail walker a view of the canal beyond.
Some works appear more lifelike and have close ties to Seneca Falls. Sculpted portraits of contemporary women already included Diana Smith (2006), the first woman mayor of the village of Seneca Falls, by Richard Musso. Dexter Benedict was commissioned by Pusmucans to create two more bronze busts. The Protector of the Trail (2009), located near the trail entrance, honors Sgt. Suzanne Hawker, the first woman hired by the Seneca Falls police force in 1994. It was produced through the lost-wax process at Benedict’s Fireworks Foundry Penn Yan, as was his Hillary Clinton (2013), which was based on photographs and took approximately a year to create.
“We are doing this sculpture from the heart,” said Pusmucans at the unveiling of the likeness of the former First Lady and U.S. Senator. “She loves New York State, and she is a real American woman. She belongs in Seneca Falls, the birthplace of Women’s Rights.”
Photos taken from different angles helped Carol Adamec create Hugo the Heron (2014), her second trail sculpture. It joined her Red Tailed Hawk, Freedom Flight (2009), which glides overhead atop a 16-foot pole. When the sculptor’s 6-foot heron was installed, Adamec saw a real one in the grasses further along on the trail, reassuring her that “Hugo was in good company.” Hugo is the Central New Yorker’s second heron; the first, Humphrey, was fabricated for her daughter in steel and rusted naturally. The Ludovico Trail version is stainless steel, and only the metal foliage near the bird’s legs will rust.
After crossing the bridge beyond Working Man’s Alchemy (2007), and following the path to the right, a new whimsical trail addition awaits. Stainless Steel Jacketed Process Vessel is displayed upside down, says Neville Sachs, husband of sculptor Adamec. The engineer identified this curious machine-made object once used for manufacturing hair care and cosmetics products.
Recently, the trail faced a challenging issue. Trail supporters successfully resisted a proposal from the Seneca Falls Town Board for eminent domain of the trail to put in a sewer line. Trail board member Dr. Allison Stokes was among those who asserted that the sewer line installation under the trail would cause permanent damage. The statue trail is “a key part of the town’s cultural landscape. It’s a great asset that needs preservation,” said Stokes.
In June 2019, eminent domain was denied by the appellate court. The town had failed to take into account the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s caution that the sewer’s construction could impact the possible presence of endangered, threatened, or rare animals and plant species – the northern long-eared bat, the imperial moth, and the northern bog violet. Also of concern was how the proposed horizontal drill boring process might impact surface water, particularly the canal.
Today, plans to enhance the visitor’s experience continue, and include new entrance signage. For information on this dawn-to-dusk trail, check its Facebook page or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To make a tax-deductible donation for upkeep of the trail, or to become a sponsor or volunteer, contact Friends of Ludovico Sculpture Trail, PO Box 164, Seneca Falls, NY 13148.