October 23, 2021

Grant recipient turns former Mullen Office Outfitters into exhibit

Art is what he’s got in store

Travis Dunn/staff reporter

Artist Nathan Loda sets up his paintings Saturday in the Main Street storefront of the former Mullen Office Outfitters, a longtime Cortland business that closed in 2017.

Nathan Loda had six of his paintings hung by Saturday afternoon; he hopes to hang two more in the coming weeks. The venue is the former Mullen Office Outfitters building at 28 Main St., Cortland; that longtime downtown business closed in 2017 and has been vacant for two years.

Loda received a $2,000 Central New York Arts grant to convert a vacant downtown storefront into a long-term art exhibition. His paintings will be on display until Oct. 31.

One of his showcased paintings depicts a barn built by his great-great-uncle Wright Perry; the barn was built in the early 1900s on the Maple Slope Farm in Homer. The style, like several of the displayed paintings, is trompe l’oeil — a French term for “deceive the eye” — a technique that tricks the viewer into seeing three-dimensional objects.

In this painting, Loda includes a painting of an old photograph showing cows in the barn; the painted depiction of his photo then overlaps the depiction of the empty barn as it exists today. Loda said he did this to convey the gap between the historical working farm and the current abandoned reality.

“You can feel the history when you’re in there,” he said.

Next on Loda’s agenda is doing a new painting of the Mullen building using an old photograph of that building and the same trompe l’oeil technique.

While Loda was setting up on Saturday, two nephews of Fritz Mullen, the former owner of the building, happened to pass by. One of them, Marty Petrella of Rochester, was in town for the Art and Wine Festival, but he grew up in Cortland.

“It’s good to come back once in a while,” Petrella said. “The art’s cool,” he told Loda. “I really like it.”

Loda’s storefront exhibition is also a harbinger of bigger things to come. The Mullen building, which is now owned by McNeil Development, is also slated as one of the projects for Cortland’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative.

Chris Merkley, designee for the grant at this location, said he envisions turning the building into The Orchard, which will combine an upstairs performance space with recording equipment for capturing live shows and a downstairs food venue and four lanes of two-thirds scale bowling. He said he also wants to turn the roof into an open-air deck.

The $1.4 million project was awarded $975,000 as part of the state Downtown Revitalization Initiative announced in October 2017; Merkely said he is responsible for securing about $500,000 in private financing for the project. He anticipates starting construction at the end of this year and expects the building to be open for business in the spring or summer of 2021.