By Brian J. Howard - The Star News

Maybe it's because he's a sculptor himself, but Wilfredo Morel thinks that art is just another aspect of a person's health.

At the very least, he figures, art is a great way of reaching out to people. And if they can learn a little about the health care resources available to them, then it's all the better. That's especially true in communities where many people are poor and few speak English. Art is a way of reaching them.

"I really think that bringing in art as another tool to educate and break barriers, it's another tool we have," Morel said.

It's that line of thinking that led Morel, the Director of Community Out-Reach for Hudson River Community Health in Peekskill, to develop the historic farm exhibit at the comer of Main and Bank streets.

And tools are just what can be found on the site of a former service station next door to the health center. The varied and obscure items came from a pair of New Hampshire farms owned by friends of Morel. He drove up and dug them out; two at first, then 10 more later. Trees were growing through some of the wrought iron plows and mowers, and they were covered in a hundred years of dirt and rust.

Morel salvaged them and restored and repaired them where he could. They stand now like fixtures of modern art. A few of Morel's own sculptures stand alongside the old tools, too. Research revealed most date back to around 1910. Now they fit in nicely with the Peekskill Farmer's Market, which takes place on Saturdays just around the corner.

The health center bought the adjacent property a few years ago. The old station had become an eyesore. Now it's an attraction that makes the downtown a nicer looking place. A row of flowers lines a chain-link fence that encloses the site.

The fence itself is painted black to make it appear less forbidding, and a wide opening at the front gives the place an inviting look. The grounds are covered in mulch, completing the effect of a sculpture garden.

The old service station itself was renovated inside and out and will eventually re-open as a community resource center, augmenting the health center's range of community services.

Ann Insyxiengmay has worked at the upholstery business across the street for 22 years. She said the exhibit has added something to the neighborhood.
"The customers see it, and they say it's an improvement," Insyxiengmay said. "I'm glad something happened. It looks better than before."

More than the visual improvement and more than the tie-in with the farmer's market, the site holds an artistic appeal.
The health center has many art programs meant to bring in the community. In one recent program dubbed "Doors of the Future," children painted doors with images representing their hopes and dreams. In the health center's waiting area, there are ongoing exhibits by local photographers. And a colorful mural of the Hudson River Valley by a local artist is painted on a wooden fence that runs between the site and the health center.

"I really feel that art improves everyone's standard of living," health center spokeswoman Dorothy DeBiase said.  Peekskill residents Benjamin and Gracie M. Smith were strolling down Main Street last week just before a group of day campers were to arrive for a tour of the site. They liked what they saw. "It adds a lot of color," Benjamin said. "I think that this very important because it gives us something to motivate us and to be proud of."