When viewing the pen-and-ink mural that Melissa Newcomb created of the Rochester city skyline and the arched bridge spanning the Genesee River, you might need to take a few steps back.
That’s because the canvas is approximately 6 feet tall and 8 feet wide, perhaps a salute to the visual dominance the bridge itself maintains against the city’s skyscrapers and corporate construction. But the work also invites one to step closer to examine the intricacy of the lines, columns, window panes, and step back again to take it all in.
The piece captures a view of the city skyline as seen from a spot southwest of the Frederick Douglass – Susan B. Anthony Memorial Bridge (formerly the Troup-Howell bridge), along the Genesee. It is already getting attention from clients who visit the offices of Marathon Engineering at 39 Cascade Drive, said John Stapleton, business manager.
“We had a back wall that was pretty bare and thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to have something to put up?’” he said.
The firm’s first idea, a colored mural depicting enlarged areas of projects across Western New York that Marathon has completed, didn’t translate on paper as well as company staffers thought. So, when Stapleton and Robert Bringley, president and creative lead, sat down with Newcomb, assistant professor of art at Keuka College, she suggested Keuka students get involved. From there, the artists proposed a Rochester city skyline concept instead.
Due to time and curriculum constraints, the students were not able to help complete the project, so Newcomb tackled the piece solo. She and her brother, Matt Newcomb, who is on staff at Marathon, built a wooden frame for the canvas between semesters. She began transferring the small-scale drawing chosen by the firm to the canvas in February, sketching lightly in pencil first. Once the drawing, in graphite, was completed in late May, shortly after Keuka’s graduation, Newcomb devoted the majority of her time in June and July to apply the India ink, layer by layer, to create the work. Nine different nibs, types of pen tips, were used to create different dimensions with each stroke.
“I loved how the ink would flow across the surface. Although I knew I needed control for straight lines, there was room to let it take its course,” she said. “If a drip ran down or a blob of ink dropped, it wasn’t planned, but became a part of the work. After all, it is art, and sometimes we need to just let it happen.”
Now, almost two months later, Marathon Engineering is raving about the results.
The free-hand style generally elicits better response than straight-line drawings, Stapleton said, and the black-and-white design is more simple and clean. It also fits with the general presence and type of work on which a firm like theirs will focus. Often, artist renderings are presented to a company before it goes out to bid for contracting of the work itself.
“I think someone would spend hours upon hours trying to color that,” Stapleton said of the firm’s preference for a black-and-white work. “I think a lot of this was Melissa’s understanding of what we were looking for and trying to interpret that. Obviously, she did a nice job of that.”
The Marathon offices lie in repurposed mixed-use brick buildings in what used to be known as Rochester’s Cascade district, Stapleton said. When the buildings were renovated, the developer kept the natural wood floors, brick walls and timber columns intact. Another engineering firm holds a unit near the Marathon offices and loft apartments have been created overhead.
“Ten years ago, you wouldn’t want to walk down the street where our office is, and today it’s all professionals and great buildings being put to use,” Stapleton said. “I think the city is proud of the Cascade District, and … this [artwork] may lend itself into that.”
According to Stapleton, some 35 percent of the company’s work is related to education. Marathon Engineering has also had a hand in the ongoing renovations of the North American Breweries museum and visitors center. This is the first time Marathon has partnered with Keuka College.
“She absolutely loves her position at Keuka and has insisted nothing is more rewarding than watching her students develop,” Matt Newcomb said of his sister, who is helping to restructure portions of Keuka’s developing arts program after teaching there four years.
Added Stapleton: “If this is the type of work that Keuka College is associated with, that’s a great impression. So far, everybody loves it.”
According to Melissa Newcomb, the process of creating such a large piece held its challenges, but was a rewarding experience overall.
“Researching the history of Rochester, the architecture, design, perspective, and overall presence was really intriguing. I would do it all over again,” she said, noting this could be just the start of more large-scale art work. “I’m certain it will open many doors of opportunity to Keuka art students.”