October 24, 2021

Cortland life imitates art

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Cortland Community-oriented Police Officer Jesse Abbott, left, recreates Norman Rockwell’s iconic painting, “The Runaway,” with 5-year-old Eli Hilsinger of Solon at Frank and Mary’s Diner recently with diner owner Tom Hartnett.

In Lt. Rick Troyer’s office at the Cortland City Police Station hangs a picture Community-oriented Police Officer Jesse Abbott has long admired.

It is the picture of the famous 1958 Norman Rockwell painting titled “The Runaway” — where a police officer and a young boy are sitting next to each other at a diner, and the officer is looking down at the kid, while the kid is looking up at the officer.

“I’ve always loved it,” Abbott said. “It is a staple of police and community.”

Being the community-oriented police officer, Abbott wanted to recreate the painting one day with himself to hang in his Main Street office. He initially planned on doing it with his kids, but they’re in their teens now.

One day recently, while having breakfast at Frank and Mary’s Diner, Abbott spoke with Ciara Hilsinger, a waitress at the diner, and found she had a 5-year-old son, Eli, who she would let be a part of the photograph.

Eli Hilsinger, while shy and quiet, nodded his head with a smile when asked if he was excited to be a part of the photograph. It was fitting for him, too, because he wants to be a police officer when he is older, Ciara Hilsinger said.

“It is a perfect picture between police and youth in the community,” Abbott said.

Working with youths is part of Abbott’s routine. Some days he’ll spend time at the City Youth Center at 35 Port Watson St., playing or talking with the kids there — the fun part of his day.

Abbott met Eli last week at Frank and Mary’s Diner to pose for the photograph. Thomas Hartnett, owner of the diner, said he thought the picture was a great idea when Abbott pitched it to him.

Hartnett also posed as the waiter in the photograph, while Abbot and Eli sat next to each other.

“It is great to get kids involved, especially with all the nonsense about police,” Hartnett said. “He (Abbott) does a great job.”

Once everyone was in the correct pose, multiple photographs were taken to ensure the perfect shot was captured. Hartnett said he’s going to hang a copy of it in the diner.

Abbott will send the photograph to local artist Bryan Bancroft, whose chalk artwork of celebrities is displayed around Brix Pubaria, at 60 Main St., and have him do an oil painting recreation of the photograph.

In Rockwell’s painting, there is a bindle under the young boy’s chair. Abbott said he will have Bancroft draw a German shepherd puppy in place of the bindle, since he was one of the officers who helped put the city’s canine unit together.

He is not sure how long it will take for Bancroft to complete the artwork, but once it is finished, Abbott said he will probably have it insured.

Like Troyer, Abbott will have his own Rockwell picture hanging in his office, but this one will have a direct connection to Cortland.

“This is going to be cool,” he said.