PORTLAND — The artist who created the unorthodox installation at Boothby Square — ridges of steel rising from a small meadow in the square’s center — is working with the Portland Public Art Committee to make changes that will assuage critics and meet the committee’s expectations while preserving the essence of the piece.

Shauna Gillies-Smith, a Harvard professor and renowned landscape architect, designed “Tracing the Fore” to invoke waves on the Fore River, which used to run along Fore Street.

She was in Portland last week to meet with committee members, critics and landscaping experts, including the city arborist.

“We related to her the discontent of the area merchants, and also told her of our own frustration with the piece with the reality it wasn’t the piece we had commissioned,” said Jack Soley, chairman of the committee.

Soley said they made it clear that the public art could be removed if the concerns aren’t addressed.

The meeting followed a long period in which there had been no communication between the artist and the committee despite the public angst over the piece. Now, members feel they are moving toward a resolution.

“We are trying our best to make the project work and tidy it up and get the artist, who worked very hard on this creative idea and concept, to work with us on making it the public art piece that we envisioned and that she envisioned,” said Peggy Greenhut Golden, a member of the Public Art Committee.

The piece, installed three years ago, incorporates tall grass to simulate the ocean. But the blue sheep fescue never grew as intended and the city has been unable to maintain it in a way that meets the expectations of the Public Art Committee and the artist.

Now, Gillies-Smith is exploring alternatives that could improve the piece.

Matthew Cardente, who moved his commercial real estate office to Boothby Square in April, said he has been increasingly troubled by the piece since he learned that other business people in the area don’t like it. He organized opponents, and this summer they asked the committee to have the piece removed.

Cardente, Gillies-Smith and Soley met for 30 minutes last week to seek common ground. But Cardente doesn’t believe the project is salvageable.

“At this point you’d be throwing more money at a solution that doesn’t work,” he said. Not everyone finds the project offensive.

Reactions of passers-by were mixed Thursday.

“I like it,” said Megan Cooney, who graduated recently from Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania. She said the grass makes the steel look like mountains, but she could see its resemblance to the ocean on a windy day.

Her friend disagreed.

“It’s just not very interesting and it doesn’t look like an ocean,” said Marry Alice Scott. She found it at odds with the quaint, old architecture in that section of the Old Port.

Tourists seemed to appreciate the piece, though they didn’t all get it.

“My first impression was it was a cemetery for veterans,” said Gerald Francoeur, a visitor from Montreal, as he made the approach down Fore Street. The piece lacks something, he said, but “it’s not so bad after all when you take the time.”

Locals were less kind.

“I really don’t love it. It’s kind of confusing. It should be more colorful and more lively,” said Cathleen Dubosky, who ate her lunch on the sidewalk alongside the installation. She said it’s better suited to some other location.

The Public Art Committee has said it is weighing all options, including having the artist alter the design, moving the installation or removing it. It has asked Cardente to poll merchants in the area to see what level of support they could offer if the installation is to be removed.

Cardente said businesses don’t have a lot of money to spare but have indicated they are willing to volunteer their time.

The Public Art Committee will meet at 4 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall to review the options and their cost.

“Shauna is feeling very encouraged that, with regular maintenance, she can deliver the piece she was commissioned for. That’s what we have to discuss at the next meeting,” Soley said.

“Whatever next step we take, we can’t afford to be frivolous,” he said. “I want to make sure we get it right. It might take a few months to figure it out, it might take longer.”

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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