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Saving works; Artists draw attention to local preservation

On a chilly day last March, a small group of artists gathered on a stretch of sidewalk along South Park Avenue in the Cobblestone District.

They peered past their easels at a 140-year-old brick building that once housed a brass foundry and blacksmith shop -- a building just two days away from a demolition hearing that could have erased it from the city's streetscape for good.

That gathering succeeded in bringing a modest but important bit of publicity to the endangered structure, which has thus far avoided the wrecking ball. It was the first of several events held by Painting for Preservation, the small but growing collective of artists doing their part to merge the concerns of local artists and the growing preservation movement.

From 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, the group, founded by painter Sara M. Zak, will assemble at the corner of Howell and Amherst streets, where a 1923 gas station designed by architect Karl Schmill stands neglected and in need of renovation. Schmill also designed Amherst Street's Assumption Church, the subject of another Painting for Preservation event last September.

While many Painting for Preservation gatherings have been concentrated on buildings in long-neglected sections of town and amid unspectacular surroundings, the Amherst Street event is meant to take advantage of a neighborhood renaissance already in progress. The event is a collaboration with Artsphere Studio and Gallery, an important anchor in the ongoing revitalization of the Black Rock thoroughfare.

"It's so wonderful what's happening up there," Zak said. "We're there to highlight everything wonderful that's happening on the street, but also say, 'Hey, look at the potential of this place that might be overlooked.' "

For Zak, whose paintings have long been concerned with endangered urban structures and their surrounding environments, painting and preservation share plenty of common DNA.

"They're both about being active in the community and trying to breathe life into [the] community, to see beauty, to help others share in beauty that you see," She said. "The culturals and preservation are Buffalo's future and what we can use as the economic driving forces here. I think they're a really natural marriage."

During the organization's events, which typically draw 10 to 20 artists who make sketches, paintings and photographs, conversations with neighborhood residents about the day's subject naturally evolve. That community engagement, Zak said, is one of the group's main goals.

"It just opens up this dialogue that wouldn't have otherwise occurred. It's so laid-back and so casual. It's odd to see a bunch of people just hanging out making artwork on these city streets."

At one event, held last April near Harris Hardware at 169 East Ferry St., a woman approached photographer Steve Siegel to ask what all the fuss over the building was about. She was clearly skeptical about preservationists' attempts to save it and about the presence of artists there.

"He gave her some history and she said, 'I never looked at it like that before,' " Zak recalled. "She said, 'Every time I walk by this building, I'm actually going to see it now.' "




WHAT: Painting for Preservation    

WHEN: 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday    

WHERE: Howell and Amherst streets    

TICKETS: Free    

INFO: 874-2863