November 30, 2021

‘Telling a story’ with mural

Artist formally reveals her work covering Corset building

Shenandoah Briere/contributing photographer

Crystal Lyon signs her name Saturday by the mural she painted on the Cortland Corset Building. Lyon officially revealed the 30-foot-tall mural as part of a culminating event showcasing the businesses inside the Corset Building.

A smile crossed Crystal Lyon’s face as she picked up the brush slathered in black paint and wrote her initials on the bricks next to her mural.

Lyon is the artist behind the 30-foottall mural on the west end of the Cortland Corset Building on East Court Street in Cortland.

She did an official reveal of the mural on Saturday to more than 50 people as part of a culminating event showcasing
the businesses inside the Corset Building, which includes everything from art shops to a yoga studio.

The idea for the mural started in April after Lyon wanted to find a way to tell the story of Cortland’s history through art.

“What I’m interested in is telling a story and the mural itself is like one single story, but there’s many hands in that story, forming that story,” Lyon said. “Then this story has all of these roots coming off of it and spreading.”

The image mirrors several efforts begin to use the arts in Cortland County as an economic development tool. A $200,000 plan to create outdoors arts displays, the Crown City Arts Project, won its grant as part of a $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative by the state to re-create downtown Cortland into a center where work, entertainment and residential living all converge in a concentrated area.

And it comes as Cortland is taking part in an arts census. The $100,000 plan by CNY Arts would, ultimately, create arts districts in five counties, including Cortland, based on a study that shows people who attend arts event typically spend $21 elsewhere in the community per event, and that arts help create 3,300 jobs and $100 million in economic activity across those five counties.

The mural honors the 150-year old building, which was constructed for a wagon company before corsets were manufactured there. The mural features a large wagon wheel in the background. In the foreground, a woman wears a corset, goggles on her head and artwork on her arms. Lyon called the theme “steampunk” — an industrial historic look.

Lyon chose the west end of the building because it faces Pendleton Street and is the most visible part of the building.

“People who were born and raised here don’t see this building, it’s invisible to them,” said Tammie Whitson, one of the owners of Cinched Art Space. “Our hope is large scale art like this will help them see this building again.”

Mary Jo Park, who has lived in Cortland for 61 years, only vaguely remembers the corset factory when it was in the building. She’s said that many of her friends’ parents worked at the factory.

“There’s so much history in Cortland,” Park said. “We need to embrace the good parts in our community and help rebuild Cortland.”

The mural on the Cortland Corset Building features a large wagon wheel in the background. In the foreground, a woman wears a corset, goggles on her head and artwork on her arms. Artist Crystal Lyon called the theme “steampunk” — an industrial historic look.

However, Lyon’s work didn’t come without challenges.

During the 60 hours Lyon worked on the mural, she dealt with the intricacies of the buildings aging structure and architectural details in order to get the project done. However, she still has more to do. Lyon was unable to restore the windows on that side of the building before the reveal.

She said it is her next goal. She hopes that just like with the mural, it could become a community project as well.

“It’s been really fun because in the process of doing this it kind of brought a lot of people out of the woodwork too,” Lyon said. “I had all kinds volunteers come out. The whole idea is to inspire people to do more. What can you do in your community that’s positive?“

Lyon said she’d like to this be the beginning of more art to come in the greater Cortland area. She sees the potential for lighting designs and public art being displayed all across the city.

“I think that it’s prime time for Cortland to reinvent itself,” Lyon said. “I’m really excited about this because the potential of this building is boundless. The potential in the Cortland community is also boundless because we’re in a position where we’re able to redefine ourselves.”