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North Country/Tri-Lakes

Mecklenburg

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Mecklenburg
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It's a tiny hamlet just outside of Trumansburg and unless you've driven past, you may not have even known it's there. But in this week's edition of Your Hometown, Tamara Lindstrom tells us about a place hatching inspiration on what was once a chicken farm in the Town of Mecklenburg.

MECKLENBURG, N.Y. -- Head west on 79 out of Ithaca until the houses and buildings fade away. Make a sharp right that you'll probably miss the first time and just when you know you're lost in the middle of nowhere…

"You're at Durand's forge. You're at the home of the hottest blacksmith shop in Mecklenburg and possibly this side of the Mississippi and North of Tennessee," said Durand Van Doren.

An oasis of activity in an otherwise quiet village.

"Mecklenburg, at the moment, is a rundown, nowhere town. But it's starting to pick up," blacksmith Teo Aceto said.

Here on Carman Road, a couple of outbuildings sit near an enormous old barn.

Van Doren, "Carman Road Artist Quarters is what the owner calls it. Craq. As in Ireland, good craic is a good party."

"This was the poster child of the state of the art chicken barn in 1954. It was a brooder house and a brooder house is basically just growing chickens from eggs to functional size. It was huge, 20,000 square feet under one roof. And that was irresistible to me," said David Van Nostrand, a property owner.

Nearly 20 years ago, the wood craftsman bought the place knowing exactly what he wanted to do, slowly turning the five story structure into studios and rustic living spaces.

Van Nostrand said, "So that allows artists to not have to do a day job. Because in today's society, artists have to have a day job. And as we all understand, day jobs don't pay anything anymore. So you really don't even have time or money to be an artist in the evenings or weekends anymore."

From 120,000 chickens to a handful of artists, the old barn has become a center for creativity.

"This exact scene that I have out here is what I was dreaming of. I wake up and right out the window is the horizon. It's really awesome. Right now I'm doing abstract or semi abstract," said artist Ben Marlan.

"My focus is on accessory collections for men and women. So belts, cuffs, suspenders, handbags, large bags. I've done hats. I do wall art, too," said leather artist Aaron Arlinghaus.

Van Doren said, "I make weather vanes and chandeliers, gates and grills and fire pokers. I make truck racks and I fix garden implements

"I'm a blacksmith here. I handle production, so I'm constantly in the process of cutting or forging or welding some piece of steel," Aceto said.

Over the years, about 30 artists have found inspiration in the remote quarters.

Marlan said, "This is very peaceful. And it's easy to focus. This place where we are right now, there's a lot of artists here. And you have a good sense. It's a very creative sense."

"It's pretty good. Pretty quiet, so I can concentrate on my work. But after a long time of working, people come by anyway. So you have interruptions. Sometimes TV crews come by. That type of thing," Van Doren said.

Van Nostrand says it's an intentionally built community.

He said, "The crossover between the arts is really, really refreshing in all the designs senses. Somebody who's looking at something only as a woodworker is looking at certain things. And when you have people working in different media, they have a fresh take on what you're doing."

"It's inspiring. And being in a little artist community here where people are working every day. You hear Durand's hammer pounding, you better be making something. Dave's in his shop every day working. You're learning how to do that, too," Arlinghaus said.

A steady stream of visitors trickles through the grounds.

"You're interconnected all into the area,” Van Doren said. I do work for all the wineries and all the people who have breweries and distilleries. So it's like a family."

But the owner hopes to share more than art.

Van Nostrand said, "A place like this, I think, just helps all the visitors to see that there are alternatives. That there is a different way of approaching life."

"It's a unique whole community. People end up here for a reason," Arlinghaus said.

While the community continues to grow. The one thing visitors won't see is a throwback to the structure's early days.

Van Nostrand said, "Absolutely not. I've cleaned up after enough chickens already."

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