Emma Cook doesn’t see just drab, blank wall on a building. She sees a potential canvas for her work.

“There’s a need for community art,” said Cook. “That’s why I wanted to paint this mural.”

For the past couple of weeks, Cook, a 2012 graduate of Allegheny College, has been painting a mural on a storage building at the City of Meadville playground located at Lincoln Avenue and Lyons Street.

Her mural project illustrates French Creek and its flood plain in the Fifth Ward neighborhood where the playground is located. It’s funded through Allegheny College’s Arts & Environment’s Community Arts Project.

“I started talking with residents about what it was like living within a flood plain to get some ideas,” said Cook.

A flood plain is an area of flat land or nearly flat land that periodically is subjected to flooding.

Cook’s mural depicts French Creek, aquatic life in it and some landmarks in and near the Fifth Ward area  — the Dairy Isle, Wadsworth Avenue Evangelical Church, the Spring Street Bridge, a swimming hole on French Creek and the former Avtex Fibers Inc. plant and rising water.

Meadville’s Fifth Ward has French Creek on its eastern side and Cussewago Creek on its northwestern side.

French Creek floods when it reaches 14 feet or more at Mercer Street in Meadville. It has done so five times since 2004, according to records from the National Weather Service’s hydrological center.

The rising water means some of streets in the Fifth Ward area — such as Spring Street Extension, Race Street, and Columbia and Wadsworth avenues — are susceptible to minor flooding.

While Cook has been working mainly by herself, she’s not been totally alone during her efforts.

Periodically, she’s had help from some kids in the neighborhood who’ve painted some areas under her direction.

Residents in the area also have offered the use of outside spigots to rinse off paint brushes and the like or the use of a ladder to reach upper areas of the building, she said.

“Everyone who walks by kind of checks out what I’m doing,” she said.

Cook graduated from Allegheny College in May with a degree in environmental studies and minors in art and Spanish.

She combined her love of art with environment during her college studies. She worked on the Allegheny College Center for Economic and Environmental Development’s master plan project for Mill Run.

That master plan compiled the land, water, biological, and cultural resources to be found in Meadville; a description of the Mill Run Watershed; an environmental assessment of the stream; and suggestions for improving water quality.

Cook’s work on that project included reviewing and editing existing literature, selecting and incorporating maps and historical photos into the report, and formatting the plan to make it organized, easy to understand, and visually pleasing.

She also helped paint murals on a couple of outdoor lavatories at Meadville’s  Shadybrook Park in 2009 as part of her summer internship that year with the Center for Economic and Environmental Development.

Cook hopes to get another project completed before she heads out to Colorado for work in October. That’s an artistic bus shelter for residents of Asbury Manor, a mobile home park in the Fifth Ward area.

“I want to develop my own community projects like this wherever I am,” said Cook.

Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at kgushard@meadvilletribune.com.

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