AUGUSTA – The past year the Viles Arboretum has rolled out an array of unusual programs and displays with the goal of putting the 30-year-old preserve on the map. Everything from fiddle jams to a headless horseman who rode across the fields for Halloween have been featured at the 224-acre preserve.
New Executive Director Mark DesMeules says the staff is just getting started on what will be a new era at the arboretum. The end goal is to welcome the local community and draw in others, even those from away.
Last week, the arboretum, previously named the Pine Tree State Arboretum, had 16 stone sculptures by Maine artists installed along an art trail that spans nearly a half mile over rolling hills and through orchards. The collaborative project will be an important stepping stone to the arboretum’s future, DesMeules said.
“We want to make it a destination place. I know people in Maine who belong to the (Boston) Arnold Arboretum. I don’t see why it can’t be the other way around,” DesMeules said of Harvard University’s arboretum, the oldest in North America.
Since he took over in 2011, DesMeules has worked to start unique programs, while showcasing the natural displays and forest stands the arboretum already has.
Already, the trail system has been revamped with new interpretive signs that showcase the 20 unique botanical collections; an indoor farmer’s market has begun and a Civil War reenactment has been held.
The sculpture-in-nature project is a good example of the unusual, engaging program to come, DesMeules said.
Against a grove of birch trees, a stunning, spreading butternut tree and a row of heritage apple trees, large stones and carved works of art seemingly rise out of the ground. The 16 pieces by 11 Maine artists add strange and fun surprises to the open space. Soon a piece by a class at the University of Maine-Augusta, “The Imperfection of Man,” will be set off in its own small field.
“What this allows is big stone sculptures on a landscape that are not defined by architecture. They unfold on the landscape, and in the spring, the landscape will rise around them,” said Woolwich artist Andreas von Huene, who helped conceive the idea.
AVon Huene smiled as he looked out across a brown, late-fall hillside with several large stone works prominently visible. Next to him stood sculptor William Royall, whose piece “The Storm” started the project when philanthropist Elsie Vile donated it.
“I was sitting in (DesMeules’) office and Mark told me people were stopping, taking photos and touching my stone sculpture that was donated by Elsie Viles,” Royall said. “I thought, this is a lot of bull. But then I looked out and someone was doing it, taking photos, touching it. That suggested to me, this could be much more.”
On Wednesday, five art students from UMA beamed as they looked out at the landscape, bejeweled with stone sculpture, and considered their place in the project.
“Integrating the university’s art with the community is huge. It makes our work tangible,” said UMA student Aimee Forbush.
The art trail is a beacon signaling what’s to come at the arboretum, DesMeules said. The 11 artists involved came together in just six weeks to bring the idea from a hope to reality.
“The art pieces give us a major jump. We have eight new interpretive signs at the printer. We’ll have dog sleds here this winter. We want to be a destination place. We’re not there yet, but we’re heading there,” DesMeules said.
Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: