City readies Italian Gardens for grand reopening
SARATOGA SPRINGS - Work continues at the Italian Gardens in the northeast corner of Congress Park in preparation for a July 10 opening, and just in time for the judging of the Spa City in the national America in Bloom contest.
"It will be a great opportunity for the judges to see how the community came together," Public Works Commissioner Tom McTygue said.
He said the restoration of the Italian Gardens opens up another segment of the park where people will be strolling.
A dedication ceremony will be held at 1 p.m. on July 10.
The two Tritons spitting water across a pool, popularly known as "Spit and Spat," are the best-known part of the gardens. Brought from Italy - where they were created by unknown sculptors - in 1905, they have become a local landmark.
The rest of the gardens had fallen into some disrepair, however.
The situation has now been resolved through restoration of pieces like the sundial and Corinthian columns and the re-creation, with the help of photographs, of statues that used to populate the gardens.
Lewis Elia, a volunteer with the Saratoga Springs History Museum, coordinated the effort.
Richard Canfield purchased the area in 1902 and created the gardens over the next several years. The city purchased Congress Park in 1911 for $150,000.
Four pillar-like statues of satyrs and maenads, followers of Greek gods Pan and Dionysus, respectively, have been reproduced.
Elia calls the goat-footed Pan "Hugh Hefner of ancient Greece," the musician son of Hermes. Maenads are female companions of Dionysus, the god of wine, "dancing with the wild abandonment of complete union with primeval nature,"
in the words of a plaque for the garden.
"You're talking 40, almost 50, years since they were intact," McTygue said.
Elia remembers the statues being in good condition from his childhood, but vandalism and weather deteriorated them over the decades.
"I don't think people realized what they had," he said. But he was happy with the results.
"They came out very well," he said. "I was particularly pleased with the faces of the satyrs."
While the original sculptures are Carrera marble from an Italian quarry worked since Augustus was Caesar, the new sculptures are made of |composite material including marble powder, which made the project a fiscal possibility.
Artists at Marblecast in Salt Lake City, Utah, made clay prototypes from photographs and postcards in the museum archives and cast the statues. The company has also made Spit and Spat bookends for the museum.
Leslie Mechem, chairwoman of the Classics department at Skidmore College, assisted Elia with the research, determining that the satyrs were based on works from the fourth century A.D. The size of the ears on the statues shows of the influence of Christians, who demonized the god of the shepherds.
The garden contains five circles of equal size, with the sundial in the center.
The decorative dial is modeled after another in Lugano, Italy, with a passage by English poet William Robert Spencer (1769-1834), "Noiseless falls the foot of time, which only treads on flowers," inscribed upon it.
The four other circles are still empty bases surrounded by flowers, but a statue will stand within each after the July 4 celebrations.
Donations from the Principessa Elena Men's |Society ($700), Elliott and Kathy Masie ($500) and D'Andrea's Pizza ($50) helped make the project possible, but the lion's share of $20,000 came from the David B. Silipigno Foundation.
"They can say what they want about longevity in public office, but it takes longevity to get a project like that completed," said McTygue, who has run the department since the 1970s.
Elia put in many hours, but he said it was a labor of love. "I helped recreate a piece of Saratoga Springs history," he said.
Elia is of Italian descent, which he said made the project more personal.
"My ancestors have been making beautiful things for thousands of years," he said. "It was nice to carry on the tradition.
"I hope the citizens of Saratoga Springs and tourists for another 100 years will enjoy the gardens and the history," Elia said.
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