PORTLAND — It might have looked as if Sally Oldham was walking slowly around a bus stop Friday evening, but she was actually perusing a newly discovered — to her — work of art.

“I’ve been by here many times and I never paid any attention to it,” Oldham said. “I had no idea. It’s really neat.”

The bus stop is on Congress Street next to Monument Square and is known as the “Jewel Box Bus Shelter,” although casual passers-by can be forgiven if they think it looks pretty much like every other bus stop.

A lot of little features go into making it a work of art, said Lin Lisberger, a member of the Portland Public Art Committee, who discussed the bus shelter during the First Friday Art Walk “Art in Our Front Yard” feature, designed to bring attention to and explain public art around the city.

Lisberger said the work was commissioned in 2002 as part of a general effort to upgrade the area around Monument Square, a process that included removing a nearby mushroom-shaped public telephone booth.

Lisberger said “after a lot of discussion” and some alterations, the jewel box design from West Coast artists Laura Haddad and Tom Drugan was installed in late 2004.

She said the east-facing end and the back of the bus shelter feature gently angled glass panels, designed to reflect and refract light differently throughout the day.

The west-facing side is flat, but features holographic film in the glass that creates sparkles, an effect designed to mimic light on water. The roof is curved in a manner that suggests a lobster shell, Lisberger said, and the molded cast-iron base is intended to evoke barnacles.

Visit any nearby marina or wharf, Lisberger said, and “you’ll see that barnacles are us.”

One measure of the public’s acceptance of the design, she added, is the lack of graffiti. “If you have something that looks good, people have a certain amount of respect for it,” she said.

Art-walk participant John Beal said anything that puts art front and center is a positive as far as he’s concerned.

“I was happy to learn that it’s public art,” said Beal, who noted that his office was just above this stretch of Congress Street when the jewel box bus shelter replaced a non-artistic bus stop nearly eight years ago.

“Every time we can add some imagination and creativity to something we need to have in a public space, it’s a win-win,” he said.

But Steven Scharf wasn’t so sure it was imaginative and creative enough.

Scharf remembered that the original design called for a bright red shelter that was modeled on a lobster shell.

“The original proposal was really a work of art,” he said, “but a committee got involved and decided to dumb it down to a bus shelter.”

But to Oldham, it will never again be a simple bus stop.

“It really enhances the street,” she said. “It’s pretty neat that a bus shelter can be a jewel box.”

First Friday Art Walks are held on the first Friday of each month from 5 to 8 p.m. in Portland.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

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