OLEAN — One of the oldest and most historic parks in Olean has a new resident.
Last week, Enchanted Mountain Squirrel was installed at Oak Hill Park — an appropriate place as the plexiglass statue displays hand painted scenes of area parks such as Allegany State Park and the Allegheny River Valley Trail.
“Originally, the squirrel was on display in front of Crandall’s Memorials because they sponsored it,” said Amy Sherburne, manager of Woodland in the City, a community art project in which “When the squirrels went to auction, that squirrel was not sold, so we put him in storage.”
Earlier this year, Sherburne was contacted by officials at the Cattaraugus Region Community Foundation who were helping with efforts to beautify Oak Hill Park.
“One thing led to another and we were able to find Enchanted Mountain Squirrel a home,” Sherburne said. “Oak Hill is really a fitting location for him.”
Enchanted Mountain Squirrel is the creation of Nora O’Harra, a local artist. She also designed and made the Nutty O’ St. Nick squirrel.
In the coming weeks, area residents may notice other members of the squirrel statue scurry missing.
“Some of the squirrels need a little bit of work, so we’ll have to remove them for a bit,” Sherburne said.
She noted that the Lady Justice squirrel in Lincoln Park will soon be temporarily removed. The Starry Night Squirrel, which stood in front of the post office, will soon be returned.
The Woodland in the City project started in 2006. The project was first met with some skepticism but took off as the first 14 four-foot high fiberglass squirrels were unveiled in May 2007. Another five were unveiled in November 2007.
Each squirrel was decorated by a local artist according to the wishes of its sponsor. The statues were displayed where the sponsors selected for a time and later auctioned in 2009. Proceeds of the project, which totaled around $25,000, were meant to fund the creation of a children’s museum in Olean.
The 30th and final squirrel, Trans Am squirrel, was unveiled in the spring of 2011 and was installed in front of former Trans Am Ambulance garage on Seventh Street.
The idea for the project came from other successful public-art projects in much larger cities like Chicago and Buffalo. The trend for community statues started in Chicago with the Cow Painters in 1990.
Sherburne said though there are no plans to unveil any new squirrels, she still is searching for a suitable location for the children’s museum.
“We’re always looking for that perfect spot,” she said. “The funds for this project are still there. Especially with the rejuvenation of the downtown that’s going on, we’re hoping to find something in the near future. We’re definitely planning for the museum to be a reality.”
(Contact City Editor Christopher Michel at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @OTHChris)