April 18, 2024


Arts Fanatics

Nature-themed Catskills street art is back for summer

From butterflies in Saugerties, to cats in Catskill, and owls in Coxsackie, Catskills towns have embraced fauna-themed street art.

Each year, different municipalities invite artists to paint and decorate 3D models of a specific animal or object, then display the artwork throughout town all summer long, from Memorial Day to around Labor Day. The colorful sculptures are rooted in a public art trend that began in the late 1990s, when painted models of cows were first displayed in Chicago, bringing the city an additional $200 million in tourist revenue. The craze now continues across the country.

A few Catskills towns change their theme every year, while others stick to the same mascot. But the art always draws people from beyond the region. Some have traveled as far as Indiana, said Sharon Lalor Askew, publicity coordinator of Coxsackie Owls, to see the sculptures.

At the heart of each summer art series is an effort to give back to the local community. Local businesses help sponsor these displays and in September an auction of the models helps raise money for future events and local charities. In Catskill, auctions start at $500 for the cats, and the average sale price in 2019 was $1,600, while the top-selling cat sold for $7,600. Saugerties’ average sale price ranges between $500 and $700, and in Coxsackie, the owls start at $500 and can go up to $2000 or more. Financial support aside, the street art is fun for everyone, with most municipalities offering a people’s choice award where the public can vote for the best art.

Here’s what you’ll see at the area’s most popular street art series.

One cat featured in Catskill this year is

One cat featured in Catskill this year is “Lego My Cat,” by Stephen S. Martin, in honor of the 90th anniversary of Legos and Legoland New York’s opening.

John Campisi

Cats in Catskill

 The origins of the region’s summer street art displays began in Catskill. It is one of the longest-running art displays of its type in the country, with this year being the 15th anniversary. The event, which they call “Cat’n Around Catskill,” will line Catskill’s main street with 53 decorated cats.

This year’s featured cats range from Disney-themed, “Minny Puss” by Theresa Roe Obert in honor of the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World, to the Lego-themed “Lego My Cat” by Stephen S. Martin, for the 90th anniversary of Legos and Legoland New York’s opening.

Cat’n Around Catskill is done in association with the nonprofit Heart of Catskill Association. All of the proceeds go back into the Town of Catskill, aside from the 30 percent commission that the artist receives. Two of the events the proceeds go to include Music in the Park, which is over 10 weeks of live free music at the waterfront Dutchman’s Landing, and fireworks once or twice throughout the summer.

“Donations are also given to local charities in need,” said Christie Hicks, artist coordinator. “We have helped a cat rescue who sponsors us and we also do a scholarship too.”

The Cat’s Meow Auction & Gala will be held on September 18 at the Historic Catskill Point, where one cat will also be raffled off. In year’s past, the auction has as many guests as 300 to 400 people. This year, using both indoor and outdoor space, Hicks said they are hoping to return to full capacity depending on COVID-19 restrictions.

Coxsackie started its street art display in 2017, following the footsteps of other communities in the area. It chose owls for its theme because the word Coxsackie is a Native American word that translates roughly to

Coxsackie started its street art display in 2017, following the footsteps of other communities in the area. It chose owls for its theme because the word Coxsackie is a Native American word that translates roughly to “hoot of the owl.”

Sharon Lalor Askew

Owls in Coxsackie

Coxsackie joined the themed outdoor art festival in 2017, years after watching others pop up in communities in the area and across the country. In 2016, lifelong resident and Village Trustee Joe Ellis created a committee of interested people to start the festival.

The community felt it would not only attract more people to Coxsackie in the short-term, but the festival could be used as a gateway to learn more about the town. Lalor Askew, who is also one of the artists this year,  said they haven’t quantified the tourism impact, but anecdotally the series has been successful, attracting visitors from beyond the area. 

Why owls? Lalor Askew said it’s because the owl has been the symbol of Coxsackie for decades because it is believed the name Coxsackie is a Native American word that translates to “hoot of the owl.”

“It’s been quite a few years and people love it,” said Lalor Askew.

Because Coxsackie skipped last year’s end-of-summer auction due to the pandemic, this year’s festival will use the 41 decorated owls that were displayed in 2020. The participating artists hail from as far as South Carolina, but they always “have ties to the community,” said Lalor Askew. Some artists are professionals while others have never tried painting before. The youngest artist to take part was nine years old.

There are 39 owls in Coxsackie and two in Cairo and Catskill. You can find the map of each artwork’s location online, or find brochures across town.

Coxsackie’s auction will be held on September 25 at Coxsackie Yacht Club. During the summer, beginning on June 2, the Hoot of the Owl committee will be selling a variety of owl items at the Coxsackie Farmers Market on the first Wednesday of the month.

If you can’t make it out to Coxsackie, or want to participate yourself, you can order a mini owl online to decorate.

For the second year in a row, Saugerties display is butterflies, with the theme

For the second year in a row, Saugerties display is butterflies, with the theme “fluttering around Saugerties.” In the past they have also done horses and lighthouses.

Michael Nelson

Butterflies in Saugerties

In Saugerties, the theme this year will be the same as last: “fluttering around Saugerties.” This year is its 12th year of sculptural street art and will include work from 35 local artists. In years past, Saugerties has chosen other themes, always related to its municipality, like lighthouses and horses.

When Saugerties Chamber of Commerce Chair Mark Smith pitched the butterfly idea last year, Vice Chair, Peggy Schwartz, felt that butterflies may have been a stretch, however, she knew it is a perfect symbol of “optimism, hope [and] regeneration,” especially as we come out of the pandemic.

Just like the other towns, Saugerties relies heavily on community support. The art displays require an equal number of sponsors as artists to fund the butterflies, supplies and other fees.

“The butterflies have landed this week,” said Schwartz. “People love walking around and finding out more about the butterfly — who the artist is, the name of the butterfly and who the sponsor is.”

Some of the artists are the same as last year, but said Schwartz, “the results are even better.” 

“They really brighten up the streets,” said Schwartz. “It’s really a morale booster and a breath of fresh air [since the pandemic].”

In Saugerties, the proceeds from the auction are divided between participating artists, a chosen local charity recommended by community members, the Chamber of Commerce and a scholarship for a chosen Saugerties High School senior.

It has not yet been decided if the auction at the end of the summer will be held in-person or not. For now, there is an online auction that will go into effect over the next couple of weeks for bidding to begin. There will be brochure maps available around town and in various stores on Partition Street.

Hudson Valley Art and Culture