Unsurprisingly, Batavia’s community garden is filled with colorful flowers, vegetables, and foliage.
However, this landscape is an artistic flow painted on each side of five panels on display in the garden on MacArthur Drive. Measuring 8 feet high and 4 feet wide, the panels complement the approximately 50 lots – dotted with colorful flowers and vegetables – tended by residents and organizations.
Bergen artist David Burke was commissioned to paint. He is happy with the result and hopes the public will visit the garden area to see them.
“I only wish I had started what I do 30 or more years ago, but just in the last six, seven years I’ve had a little more free time. I homeschooled our kids for a while two years ago, so I’ve always been kind of busy, but I’ve just realized that I love painting,” Burke said during an interview in The Garden. “And so about seven years ago I just needed to do a lot more of it, and the more I do it, the better I get and the more I enjoy it.”
The Community Garden folks had planned—actually twice—an unveiling ceremony at the site, but Mother Nature, as she sometimes does, had other plans. Rain and wind forced organizers to postpone every unveiling, including a week ago. Jocelyn Sikorski, executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension, said it might be delayed until next spring.
Meanwhile, viewers can view the artwork from the park side and the high school side. The project was grant-funded and the original idea was “to put some art in the garden,” said Garden Committee Secretary Richard Beatty.
Beatty worked on the $5,000 state grant application awarded by the Genesee-Orleans Regional Arts Council in December 2021. The money was used to purchase materials and hire Burke — through a committee application process — for 10 panels. It was intended to be single hangings, but discussions of strong winds and how best to place them resulted in five panels with a mural on each side of tall wooden back walls just beyond the southern fence.
The artwork took about two and a half weeks to complete, with Burke starting with one and then working his way down so that all 10 were one continuous mural as originally planned. A member of GO Art! and interior and exterior artist at East Main Street, the Bergen Library and Grass Roots, Burke’s muse was often nature—”we did a lot of landscaping and gardening”—he said of himself and his wife.
He remembered painting his first oil painting when he was 10 and how much fun it was. With increasing age, however, it was more of an “off and on”, says the 66-year-old.
Burke has more recently explored abstract expressionism in comparison to what stands in the garden: very large, colourful, distinctive creations of nature. He wishes he had taken more art classes at Genesee Community College, where he was in his mid-’70s, he said.
“I just really enjoy the tactile physical act of painting,” he said.
Addressing concerns that the wind ravaged the artwork a bit and moving the garden from the city to the Genesee County cooperative extension took a little time, Beatty said, but garden committee members are happy with the final layout.
“I think everything turned out very well. You look great,” he said. David is positioned in such a way that … they are a nice topic on both sides. So this year we’re going to see one side and next year we’re going to see the other side and we have a vantage point for the people upstairs at the ball game.”
The painted panels are set between a chain link fence and an audience of pumpkins, bright pink zinnias and corn stalks. Gardeners plan to supplement these with sunflowers next year, Beatty said.
Committee Member and Master Gardener RaeAnn Engler appreciates the grassroots projects that the murals have become.
“The gardeners can see it and it’s colorful and cheerful and I think that’s it. It just accents the garden and what we’re doing here and it’s a mix of veggies and flowers and color. The garden itself can be seen when we first plant it, so it’s so nice to watch it develop,” said Committee Engler. “So far, corn is growing in front of the panels, you could say they’re blocking it, but others say it’s reinforcing it. It’s just great how integrated it is.”
The City of Batavia was the original recipient of the grant as the garden was still owned by the city in 2021. Earlier this year, however, the city council voted to give the garden over to the cooperative expansion because it seemed more aligned with the expansion’s goals and master gardener’s program. This transfer also opened garden and board memberships to anyone from Genesee County.
The community garden is “a very good value proposition,” Beatty said, listing prices for three different options ranging from $25 to $35.
“There is a full water supply. We have a number of Master Gardeners available to offer advice on bugs and the various things that infest your garden. So the garden itself is great,” he said. “I have to admit I was a bit skeptical about the whole artwork thing but boy does it look great. It really, really does.”
“One nice plus is giving David a little more work…it helps an artist continue to be an artist,” Beatty said. “Sure, that’s very important.”
Photos: Bergen artist David Burke displays the artwork he painted for the community garden in Batavia. The garden is located on MacArthur Drive, next to the tennis courts behind Batavia High School. Photos by Joanne Beck.