831 Elmwood Mural Q&A

Pictured: L to R, Katharine Jemison, Ashley Smith, Councilmember Feroleto, Cassandra Ott, Jeffrey Tooke, Therese Deutschlander, Jim Charlier, Yolanda Fields, Catherine Lincoln.

In celebration of the joint 25th Anniversaries of the Elmwood Village Association and Garden Walk Buffalo, the Elmwood Village Association led the installation of a new work of public art at 831 Elmwood Avenue, supported by the Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo. The work, hand-painted by artist Cassandra Ott, is a vibrant reminder of the Elmwood Village Association and Garden Walk Buffalo’s grassroots work. Read more about the mural below.

To recap the behind-the-scenes work that went into creating this work of art, we spoke to: Cassandra Ott, mural artist; Ashley Smith, Elmwood Village Association director; and Nikki Hitchcock, Garden Walk Buffalo executive assistant.

Q: What was your favorite part of this project?
Cassandra: This project was a complete 180 from how I usually work. I loved getting out of the studio to work large on a wall, and getting encouragement and feedback from the public on the process.
Ashley: Watching community members interact with the installation is the best part. It has already become a part of the rich backdrop of the neighborhood.

Q: What does public art mean to you?
Nikki: Public art is about creating the kind of community we want to live in. It starts conversations, shares values, challenges our boredom, and invites more creativity. This mural tells visitors and residents about the story of Elmwood Village.
Cassandra: Public art bridges gaps between the world of art and the community. It strengthens and beautifies neighborhoods.

**Questions for the artist:

What is your training and/or background in art?
Cassandra: I have always loved art and learning different creative processes. I took a variety of classes as a kid… paper making, watercolor, ceramics, glass bead making… and really got hooked when I took a black and white photography course in 6th grade. Developing film and making prints was so magical to me. 
In college, I pursued my BFA in Photography at the University of Cincinnati. I was most intimidated by the drawing and painting classes, but found that I loved it as much as I loved photography. I have mainly been focused on a mixed media practice for the past 10+ years, but much of my work is still somehow rooted in photographic processes.

Could you describe your artwork and style?
Cassandra: I make optimistic imagery by combining vivid color with playful experimentation. My work creates impossible rainbows in vintage photographs and joins natural elements together to create hybrid plants and flowers. I love puzzles and pattern, so repetition and decorative elements often become a part of my work, stemming from the influence of my mother’s textile background and father’s architectural practice.

What inspiration did you draw from for this mural?
Cassandra: The garden culture and appreciation of summer in Buffalo is remarkable. I am new to gardening, but have always been attracted to the diversity in the natural world and love combining floral elements with bright color. Mainly I drew from memories in my grandmother’s garden plants that are native to the region, but I wanted there to be an air of whimsy and not have the flowers depicted recognizable as any one variety. I tried to create a composition that could be growing from a potted planter or evoke a handful of flowers fresh from the farmers market or cut from the garden. I wanted the piece to be eye-catching and approachable to a wide audience.