PORTLAND – The city’s Public Art Committee has taken its share of heat in recent years.

Public backlash forced the city to remove the landscape installation “Tracing the Fore” from Boothby Square last year, and the response has been hot-and-cold to the artist-designed bench proposal for the Bayside Trail.

Mindful of its perception, the committee plans a series of free talks about the city’s public art collection. The first will begin at 5:30 p.m. Friday at the Portland Public Library as part of the First Friday Art Walk.

“We just need to get our story out,” said Alice Spencer, the committee’s co-chair. “Certainly, there have been many misconceptions about what we do up there in the ivory tower of City Hall. We want to be sure the people out there whose money we are spending (are aware) that we are doing it responsibly and for wonderful things to keep our public art maintained.”

The discussion series is called Art in Our Front Yard: Portland’s Public Art Committee. Each month, a member of the committee will discuss a single piece of art in the downtown corridor, where the Art Walk is focused.

The first discussion will focus on the Lillian M.N. Stevens Memorial Fountain, otherwise known as “Temperance (The Little Water Girl).” Situated prominently in the library lobby, the fountain features a barefoot girl with outstretched hands cradling a cup with water trickling into a basin.

Spencer will talk about the fountain, its history and its significance to the city’s art collection.

“The Little Water Girl” came to the city as a gift of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in 1917. It was given in honor of Lillian Ames Stevens, the second president of the temperance union.

Portland’s sculpture is a copy of the original bronze fountain by the English artist George Wade. He made the original in 1893 for the World’s Fair in Chicago. Two other copies are in London and Detroit.

According to the city, “The Little Water Girl” was originally installed in Congress Square. Twelve years later, it was moved to Deering Oaks. The fountain came to the library in 1979.

When the library was renovated two years ago, the Public Art Committee re-plumbed the fountain and had it cleaned and refurbished.

The city’s public art collection consists of 28 works installed throughout Portland. In all, the Art in Our Front Yard discussion series will focus on 10 works that are convenient to reach from the Art Walk.

June’s talk will focus on the Jewel Box Bus Shelter in Monument Square.

Spencer said the committee is creating a map to highlight the public art collection, and is working toward a downloadable smartphone app for self-guided tours.

But first up is an old-fashioned talk, face to face.

“We’re just asking people to meet in the front foyer of the library,” Spencer said. “I will talk for a few minutes, then take questions.”

In a prepared statement, Portland Mayor Michael Brennan said the discussion series offers a chance to “develop a new appreciation and understanding of the important role art plays in our lives.”

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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