Arts in the parks: Artists and locals hope to spruce up Bay Ridge parks

From green space to gallery: Williamsburg artist will install sculptures at beloved Bay Ridge meadow
Eirini Linardaki

A walk in these Bay Ridge parks is about to get even better.

A new art installation is coming to a favorite Bay Ridge park, according to the parks department, and a group of artists and community members who also want to install another project in a separate neighborhood park. The artistic additions to Owl’s Head Park — and Narrows Botanical Gardens, if the project is approved — will bring in Brooklynites and New Yorkers from beyond the borough to appreciate the art, said the chair of the local Community Board 10’s parks committee.

“These projects are going to be great, and will attract people from all over the city,” said June Johnson.

A Williamsburg artist who also lives and works on the Greek island of Crete designed five sculptures made of recycled objects that she found on the city’s streets and then cast in concrete. They will be installed in Owl’s Head Park late this year or early next, and will remain for six months, according to the parks department. The artist said she made the sculptures — which incorporate plastic bottles, bags, drawers, chairs, and suitcases — to resemble sea vessels to honor the journeys of immigrants who approached New York’s shore on the same waters that the sculptures will look out on.

“The whole idea is that they are representing the need of people to escape, because we all need to escape,” said Eirini Linardaki. “It’s a need that’s essential to human life, to the human condition. And to me, it was symbolically connected to the immigration stories in the area.”

Linardaki learned about Owl’s Head Park after she organized a collaborative mural project between a group of Fort Hamilton High School students, who visited Crete in February 2016, and students at the island’s School of European Education of Heraklion. She used a friend’s studio in Park Slope to create the sculptures and is so-far self-funding the $5,000 project, though she’s hoping to receive grants from local arts organizations. But Linardaki said that the experience is worth it even if she has to pay everything out of pocket.

“I think making art is a necessity,” she said.

Each of the five sculptures will weigh several hundred pounds and will be anchored to the ground using spiral stakes, according to Johnson.

Narrows Botanical Gardens will also see an art installation as soon as the parks department officially approves the plan, which has already been approved by the local community board and funded by state Sen. Golden’s office to the tune of $100,000. A local artist will design seven 15-foot-tall concrete tablets and three crossbars to be permanently installed in one of the park’s interior pathways.

The artist said that even though his installation will merely ape that of Stonehenge, a chief source of inspiration, the project will still be a unique one for the borough.

“It’s inspired by Stonehenge but it is still an original creation,” said Alexander Ryan, who specializes in hand carving, texturing, and staining concrete to resemble natural stone.

Ryan plans to use water and acid-based stains to age the faux stones, and he’ll carve and add texture to the concrete like he usually does in order to make it look more realistic, he said.

“I’m going to make it look like it’s a couple thousand years old,” he said. “Stones are not perfect. I’m making it imperfect, which makes it look very natural.”

He said he uses concrete rather than stone because it is cheaper, lighter, and easier to work with. The project will take fives weeks to complete, he said, and the concrete will be reinforced with steel on the inside to stay durable over time.

The landscape architect who designed Narrows Botanical Gardens more than two decades ago came up with the concept for the project. He said that the vibrant — and fairly safe — Ridge community is the perfect home for the Stonehenge doppelgänger.

“This is a testament to the Bay Ridge community that we can do a project like this without fear of vandalism or destruction,” said Jimmy Johnson.

The parks borough commissioner Martin Maher said in a Nov. 1 email to June Johnson that the department first needs to officially add the “Stone Tablets” project to the Shore Road Overall Conceptual Plan, a multi-million-dollar bid to revitalize and overhaul the stretch of street, before the project can officially be approved, but said that this was mostly a formality.

The Overall Conceptual Plan contains multiple components — including sprucing up the park, roads, and sidewalks — but the parks department has approved it piecemeal, greenlighting the Shore Road Park Conservancy-backed “Shore Line” project, which focuses chiefly on the park and the nearby sidewalks, but not yet reviewing the Overall Conceptual Plan as one proposal, according to Maher.

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.