Rohe embraces fantasy for Winter Carnival art
SARANAC LAKE — A winged unicorn flies by the Harrietstown Town Hall, a dragon stomps down Main Street, and Nostradamus looks out the window to see an immaculate palace made of ice.
Local artist Scott Rohe is back again this year with a fresh batch of paintings commemorating the 2020 Saranac Lake Winter Carnival.
This year’s Winter Carnival theme is “Myths and Legends,” a versatile concept that could go in plenty of directions. Rohe said he was overthinking it at first but then let his mind wander.
“The ideas didn’t roll off the top of the head. I had to keep thinking about it,” he said. “All I kept coming up with was Greek mythology. Some of it fit, but then all of the sudden it dawned on me. It could be anything — aliens, Bigfoot, anything. I was overthinking it.”
Currently, Rohe is working on a piece that shows Bigfoot stopping by the Waterhole bar on Main Street. After that, he plans on making a piece for Gauthier’s Saranac Lake Inn on Lake Flower Avenue.
“It’s right on the water, so I was thinking of doing a kraken or something like that,” he said.
Every year since 1981, Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau has designed the Winter Carnival button. Over the years we’ve seen characters from the comic strip such as B.D. go off ski jumps, Zonker drive a steam engine train and Uncle Duke play the bagpipes. Even if you don’t read Doonesbury regularly, you might still collect the buttons. This year’s button shows Zonker flying a winged unicorn toward a castle. Below, the Lady of the (in this case frozen) Lake shoves Excalibur up through the ice.
Rohe has previously voiced his opinion that he would rather have a local artist design the button. That inspired him to take up his own art project in 2019.
“It kind of started by accident,” he said. “I was painting just a picture of Main Street; then the button came out.”
That year’s design had Zonker riding a woolly mammoth while fending off sabre-toothed tigers.
“My son saw it, and he even said, ‘What’s that have to do with Saranac Lake?'” Rohe said. “So I threw some dinosaurs into my painting. Everybody wanted one, so I started making more.”
Several local supporters of Rohe have agitated on social media for the Winter Carnival Committee to replace Trdueau with Rohe to do the buttons. Committee President Jeff Branch said Rohe has never approached the committee about his ideas for Carnival-related art. Branch said Rohe and his supporters haven’t been the kindest to the committee on Facebook, and he had to start blocking aggressive commenters. He added he finds Rohe’s work impressive and it could possibly go on a secondary button if Rohe and the committee were to form a more positive relationship.
“I would love to have a conversation with him,” Branch said in phone interview Friday.
As an artist, Rohe is all over the place with his subject material. One day he might paint Donnelly’s Ice Cream shop; the next he’s working on a detailed recreation of Cillian Murphy’s character from the TV show “Peaky Blinders.” He said he’d like to showcase his work as soon as he narrows down a few pieces that fit a theme.
“I’d love to do a show, but the way my mind bounces around — you can see, I’ve got aircraft carriers, trees, hockey players,” he said. “I’m starting to get a bunch of pieces that go together and would be able to go into a show.”
His work walks the line between cartoony and realistic. He may paint a snowy scene of downtown Saranac Lake, making sure to fill in small details on every brick, store sign and window. But he’ll also incorporate seemingly the whole color spectrum — fiery oranges, vibrant pinks and cool blues — giving it a sense of surrealism. That’s partly because he’s red-green colorblind, so he likes to use a wide range of hues and tones.
Rohe had to leave his job with the village water department in 2017 after developing a condition where he gets seizures. His right arm also goes numb from time to time, and painting helps ease the pain, he said.
You can find Rohe’s work on his Facebook page, “Rohe arts and crafts.”