Honoring the Onondaga Creek - CODAworx

Honoring the Onondaga Creek

Submitted by Peter Michel

Client: City of Syracuse, New York

Location: Syracuse, NY, United States

Completion date: 2011

Project Team


Peter Michel

Peter W. Michel, Sculptor

Public Art Agent

Syracuse Public Art Commission


The Valley Neighborhood of Syracuse

Industry Resource

The Onondaga Indian Nation

Industry Resource

Syracuse Department of Public Works


Syracuse Department of Parks & Recreation

Industry Resource

Almy and Associates


This sculpture is located in a city park beside the Onondaga Creek, in the Valley neighborhood of Syracuse, a community located within the ancestral lands of the Onondaga Indians. It tells the story of a creek so abundant with salmon, that one could walk across on the backs of the fish and is a symbol of the intention to restore the creek to this healthy state. It was created as part of a program of the Syracuse Public Art Commission to encourage public sculptures in the city’s neighborhoods Its dimensions are 6’-7” x 3’-10” x 12’-0”.


The goal was to provide the valley neighborhood with a public sculpture that would be expressive of a unique aspect of the community and be located on a site that was owned by the city of Syracuse. This goal was further defined during the site selection process. The sculptor met with the Syracuse public art coordinator and the neighborhood public art committee to review possible sites and while at Meachem Field beside the Onondaga Creek, the conversation became focused on the Creek and the stories that were told by members of the Onondaga Indian Nation about the abundance of fish in the creek. It was said that they remembered a time when there were so many fish that one could just reach in a grab a fish with your bare hands. Another story was that there were so many fish that you could walk across the creek on their backs. This became the basis of a symbol of the neighborhood’s connection to the Onondagas, of the abundance of the creek and of the neighborhood and the wider community’s commitment to restore the creek, as well as Onondaga Lake, to its former glory.


That story generated the image of the sculpture. Sketches on a napkin, computer drawings, a website to explore the design development, color studies, a maquette, and community meetings led to the approval of the design by the neighborhood. At this point it was thought that the Onondaga Indian Nation should be included in this process and we arranged to meet with Onondaga chiefs to get their feedback about the project. Chief Sid Hill was enthusiastic and called Chief Oren Lyons to the site for consultation. Chief Lyons thought it should be larger than originally proposed to increase its visual impact and offered to have the Indian Nation contribute to offset the additional cost. Engineering studies determined material thicknesses, connections and base design details. North Eastern Water Jet cut the aluminum sculpture parts using the artist’s computer drawings. TRS welded and painted the sculpture and teamed up with the city department of Public Works for its installation. The DPW also made the formwork, poured the concrete base and installed the stone dust path to the sculpture.