DEWITT, N.Y. – Jennifer Marsh was sick of paying high gas prices and bothered by the abandoned gas station that was an eyesore on the drive to her studio each day.
So the aspiring artist and inspired activist came up with an idea — to cover the gas station with a colossal handmade blanket in a way that would bring greater attention to the world's dependency on oil.
"I really tried to find a good balance of art and politics. I don't want it to be just a political statement. And I don't want it to just be a sculpture," said the 27-year-old Marsh, who is finishing her master of fine arts degree at Syracuse University.
"I wanted to startle people so they would stop and think about it (oil) ... and be inspired to make up their own opinions about the situation and how it has affected their community," she said.
With the help of professional and amateur artists from 15 countries and more than 2,500 grade-school students in 29 states, Marsh covered the 50-year-old former Citgo station — pumps, light stands, signs and all — with more than 3,000 fiber panels that are crocheted, knitted, quilted or stitched together.
The panels cover 5,000 square feet and come in every color, hue and texture. There are panels in burlap, leather, even silk. There are panels of solid color and others with patterns, prints or scenes. Some carry written messages: "Give me oil or give me death."
Some of the more imaginative panels are made with the labels from plastic beverage containers, plastic shopping bags and plastic six-pack carriers — all petroleum products.
A nearby kiosk explains the project — called WRAP, for World Reclamation Art Project.
Bulgarian artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude are among those who have received global attention with their outdoor public art. In 2005, the pair put up more than 7,500 door frames draped with orange fabric along 23 miles of footpaths in New York City's Central Park. The couple are planning next to drape seven miles of the Arkansas River in fabric.
Marsh, originally from Columbus, Ohio, got interested in using sculpture as social medium after a volunteer trip to Dharmasala, India, several years ago. To pursue her ideas for community-based art projects, Marsh founded the International Fiber Collaborative.
"This is much more meaningful than making objects in the studio with the door closed, and has so much more impact than any of my sculptures could have in a museum or gallery," Marsh said.
The project cost about $29,000, much of it her own money. There were also grants and contributions from individuals and businesses.
Marsh's plan was to cover a barn until she drove by the gas station one day in March 2007 and had an impulse. She tracked down the gas station owner and got permission to use his property. Then she went to the DeWitt Planning Board to get approval.
Richard Robb, DeWitt's commissioner of development and operation, said the planning board members at first thought Marsh's idea was humorous. Then they became skeptical. But as they talked with Marsh, they realized she had a well-conceived plan.
"Our board is not known for going for the offbeat like this, but they said, 'By all means,'" Robb said. "We've been pleased about it. ... We've certainly heard a predominance of positive feedback, especially once people understand what it's for."
The aging station, which closed four years ago, sits on a traffic island at a neighborhood crossroads, across the street from a dental office and shopping plaza, just down the road from the neatly trimmed, Syracuse University-owned Drumlins Country Club.
A steady stream of people stop to look at it, town officials said. Parents stop with their children. Local schools have brought classes to see the building. The blanket went on in mid-April and will stay on through mid-July.
Friends told Donna Lacey about the dressed-up gas station.
"It's a great project," said Lacey, a 45-year-old service coordinator for disable people, who stopped by on a recent sunny day. "Aesthetically, it's wonderful. It's so colorful and vibrant. And what a cool way to make a statement."
Amy Theel stopped by with her son Ethan, a second-grader at Ed Smith Elementary School in Syracuse, one of the schools that helped in the project. Ethan found his panel and pointed it out to his mother, who was impressed so many people from around the world had contributed.
"My teacher told us it's about creating a caring community," he said.
There are about 200,000 abandoned gas stations in the U.S., according to Marsh's web site. There are also bigger projects potentially out there as well — bridges, smokestacks, empty grocery stores.
Marsh is undecided what her next WRAP will be, but she knows it will be in Huntsville, where she will move in July for a one-year teaching position at the University of Alabama.