A new 80-foot downtown mural is celebrating Troy’s long history.
Artist Kevin Clark painted the finishing touches on River Street’s Hedley Building on Friday. Once home to Cluett, Peabody & Co’s collar manufacturing company, the 1917 building once again sports a façade of red bricks and large windows. A faded sign for the factory’s later incarnation, Arrow, splits the mural down the middle. When planning the painting, Clark says he wanted to recreate as much of the building’s original character as possible – but otherwise the objective was simple.
“Don’t suck – [because] usually when you do something like this it lasts for decades," says Clark. "So if it is something that I’m not proud of, I have to figure out a way to avoid looking at it for quite a while.”
At one point, Kathy Sheehan of the Rensselaer County Historical Society says, as many as 7,500 workers, mostly women, fueled the Arrow factory, making detachable men’s shirt collars, pajamas, underwear, and more. Hence: the Collar City.
Once the factory closed down and Troy fell on hard times, auto dealer John Hedley helped modernize and redevelop the space for local businesses like today’s River Street Market. Sheehan points to a figure of Hedley painted into the mural’s bottom-right corner.
"Of course, he's the one on the end near the Cadillac, because not only did he take over his father's Cadillac business, and had that just to the north of this building — but John is the one who had that vision," Sheehan explains. "He really had the vision of Troy. When Troy was a little shaky in those years, he said 'No, we're gonna do this.'"
Hedley isn’t the only notable figure from Troy to make the cut. To his left stands women’s rights activist Emma Willard, now remembered at the eponymous girls school.
Author Herman Melville, who called the city home while writing his first two novels, clutches a copy of “Moby Dick” while leaning on a produce stand. Decked out in stars and stripes, Uncle Sam balances a bushel of apples in the middle of the crowd.
“Samuel Wilson, the progenitor of our nation’s symbol, his business started right in Troy. He supplied beef to the troops during the War of 1812, and John Fitzgerald Kennedy signed it into law that Samuel Wilson is the person who we have based Uncle Sam on, and Troy is the official home," says Sheehan.
Also in the mural is former Rensselear Polytechnic Institute President George Low, remembered for his work as a NASA administrator and his contribution to the Apollo project.
Theoretical physicist and current RPI President Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson also made the painting. A recipient of the National Medal of Science, Jackson came to the project’s unveiling to give her portrait one more stroke of the brush.
"Well I'm excited to be with all of them to be honest, to be with such great people — but obviously as a special affinity for George Low. But John Hedley was a great, great friend of mine, and a great friend to the universe," smiles Jackson. "They just told me [about the mural] this week, and so I didn't know honestly. So the surprise increases the honor, to be honest with you."
The mural was commissioned by real estate corporation First Columbia, which has been steadily redeveloping its Hedley Park Place and Flanigan Square properties into what it calls the “Waterfront District” since 2006.
Kevin Clark is no stranger to Troy – the new mural stands opposite some of his older projects, including the “Toast of the Hudson” at Brown’s Brewery. Still splattered in paint, Clark said the piece only took a month to complete.
“You always want to start from the top and work your way down, because of all the spills and all that stuff. I kinda broke it down in weekly quarters, and then you have to have wiggle room in case it rains, like yesterday," says Clark. "I would have been done yesterday, but it rained all day. So that’s why I still have my paints out, and I’m still dressed like this. Because when this is all over I have to get back to work.”
Clark said his finishing touches were small – reinforced lines and details only he would notice. But he says he’s particularly looking forward to seeing the mural at sunset, when the painted bricks take on a glow.