The two artists complete Vacchina's chestnut tree on the arch leading into the park on Friday.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A new public art project was unveiled on Saturday at the Cooper Center's Palace Park on North Street.
A dove of peace mosaic was designed by Ashfield artist Robert Markey, and Peter Vacchina, a Pittsfield native, installed his chestnut tree mosaic on opposite sides of the keystone arch that leads from the parking lot to the sidewalk.
Markey has lived and worked across the globe, even doing a public art exhibit in Afghanistan, but has called Ashfield home since 1972.
"They were giving land away basically," he said laughing on Friday as they worked on the tiled design. "I built a log cabin in Plainfield and there was a beautiful piece of land in Ashfield so I built my house there."
Vacchina has recently relocated back to his hometown of Pittsfield after being an educator all over the world.
"I spent 14 years overseas as a high school teacher in Belgium, Italy, London, Mexico, and Brazil," he said. "I relocated back to hometown Pittsfield about three years ago and I'm really excited about doing art full time. I'm friends with Bob Markey and he is part of my inspiration for doing mosaics."
The two met in the early '80s in Ashfield.
"He lived in Ashfield way back when and actually he was the one who got an invitation for me to go to Brazil to do mosaic projects," Markey reminisced. Vacchina added, "We've been connected through art and travel ever since."
When asked why they chose Pittsfield the answer was very simple.
"Mostly it's because I'm from Pittsfield and moving back I wanted to do something to help beautify the city," Vacchina said. Markey agreed. "Putting up public art, that's what I've done in different places in the world, plus a lot in Springfield. There's not much public art in Pittsfield so ... it needs it."
Vacchina's family's history in Pittsfield runs deep.
"My father worked at GE and he started the hockey program at the Boys' Club. My brother was a building inspector and weights and measures inspector in Pittsfield. My roots are so important to me and that's another reason why I wanted to do something here," he said.
The owner of the property, Jodi Tartell, explained how the project came together.
"The city of Pittsfield through Jen Glockner (director of cultural development) reached out to me and talked about having a mosaic on the arch in the park and I was thrilled, I was excited," she said. "Right away I said sure and then we met and I saw the beautiful work that would be going up so I'm excited."
Vacchina decided on the chestnut tree mosaic after being inspired by the poem "The Village Blacksmith" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and also by Springside Park, which serves as a nursery of sorts for the revival of the American chestnut, a variety considered almost extinct.
"They're trying to create a variety of seeds and trees that are blight resistant. They're hoping to help replace chestnut trees that have all been destroyed over the United States by blight."
Markey has deeply personal reasons for his dove design.
"I grew up with the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. I have been doing peace work my whole life," he said. "My art is often around stopping violence and promoting peace in different projects in different countries. I saw the dove and it was the perfect thing. The world needs more peace. Let's put a peace dove right up there."
Although the mosaics were installed in a couple hours on Friday they were immediately covered to give the material time to set up. But on Saturday, the Cooper Center's Palace Park had a brand-new art installation to grace North Street.
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