Giant Snowflakes Will Illuminate Assembly Row for the Holidays
As executive director of nighttime festival “Illuminus,” Jeff Grantz has transformed architectural surfaces in the South End and Fenway neighborhoods into canvas for public art over the past two years.
Now, Grantz and his team at Dorchester-based studio Materials & Methods are bringing a new community art experience to Somerville, transforming Assembly Row into a winter village for the holiday season.
Inspired by the neighborhood’s industrial past—it was once home to a Ford Motor assembly plant—and Assembly Row’s signature trio of metal trusses, repurposed from a Central Steel building that once stood on the land, Grantz and his team built upon the theme of “reclaiming the holidays.”
“As much as [Assembly Row] is obviously a commercial retail development, the idea at the heart of it is people coming together and being able to share a place and a time,” says Grantz. “They were really adamant about creating a sense of community and a sense of connectedness—something that felt more genuine and authentic. That was part of the idea of reclaiming the holidays.”
The theme also works on a literal level—all of the materials used for the installation were sourced from reclaimed wood, iron, and metal.
Twelve-foot snowflakes, which will be illuminated atop all three trusses, were fashioned from old sleds, sourced everywhere from antique stores to yard sales to mom and pop shops to Craigslist. The winter village below will consist of minimalist, internally illuminated timber houses and creatively stacked logs.
“As much attention as we’re putting into these grandiose, sculptural elements on the trusses, we wanted to spend as much time putting attention into things that are ground-level, that would allow people to convene and sit around and drink hot chocolate and coffee and share in what feels like a community undertaking,” says Grantz.
The installation will be unveiled by Somerville’s Mayor Joe Curtatone at “Light Up the Row,” a free community celebration on Saturday, November 28, that will also feature performances by the Back Bay Ringers, Somerville High School Band and Chorus, and Somerville Community Chorus.
The snowflakes and winter village will be lit up for five to six weeks throughout the holiday season, after which Grantz hopes they can be easily deconstructed, put away in storage, and repurposed next year.
“Our incentive is certainly to build it so that it has enough integrity to last a few seasons,” he says. “So many of these holiday decorations are usually so wasteful in their approach—you put it up and throw it away after the holidays, or if you’re lucky, you get two years out of it. We wanted to keep that in mind as well and do something that was a little bit more environmentally conscious.”
Before the next holiday season rolls around, Grantz could be working on another edition of “Illuminus”—but he’s not ready to dive in just yet.
“It always takes me a few months of post-traumatic stress disorder and therapy to get through what was an undertaking like that,” he jokes. “This year we had 30,000 people and we had to reschedule by a week, which immediately made me age by about 10 years.”
Still, he’s not discarding the possibility of a third edition.
“We’re certainly in conversations now and feeling out what the opportunities might be for next year,” he says. “But I think our focus now is just get through the holidays, enjoy a little downtime, and then we’ll pick up the ball and start running with it perhaps right after the New Year.”
The “Light Up the Row” event kicks off at 5:15 p.m. on Saturday, November 28, at The Point (behind J.P. Licks) at Assembly Row in Somerville. The celebration is free and open to the public.