PORTLAND — Artist Joshua Yurges set out to make a site-specific sculpture that would enliven the muted colors of a Maine winter.
He ended with a deeply personal piece of work that honors his sister-in-law and the baby that she and her husband lost in the sixth month of pregnancy.
The piece, titled “Preservation,” is on view at Portland’s City Hall Plaza until April 8, after which the artist will install it indoors at the Corey Daniels Gallery in Wells. No city funds were used for the sculpture or its installation at the plaza.
“Preservation” involves 25 small trees arranged in a symmetrical grid of five rows of five, all wrapped in mostly blue fabric. In the middle is a single tree wrapped in red.
The red tree represents the lost baby, who was named Mirabell.
“I knew I needed to do something for them,” said Yurges, 32, who lives in Hallowell and is a sophomore at Maine College of Art. “I did this to uphold her memory.”
In his artist’s statement, Yurges writes:
“When the ones we love are gone,
When our offspring have passed and we are left living,
What we do have is their memory.”
Yurges, who likely will become a woodworking major in his junior year at MECA, harvested the small trees from his property, and built 25 individual tree stands from spruce 2-by-4s. He installed the piece on March 23 with permission from the city, and drew a lot of attention from interested passersby.
“I had a lot of conversations with a lot of people,” he said. “A lot of them were curious about what I was doing, and a lot of them seemed moved by the piece and why I was doing it.”
One woman returned with home-cooked food, warm tea and wool socks. “I don’t think I would have gotten this done without those socks,” Yurges said.
This project was part of a MECA class called You Are Here, which challenges students to create temporary installations that respond to specific locations.
Several of his classmates also have installed work around the city, said Adam Manley, who teaches the course.
John Dickinson is installing a lounge/bench made for viewing the canopy and sky in Deering Oaks Park. Heidi Schweizer is installing a bench on the Western Prom, and Jacob Michaud has an installation with a brief interactive public performance in the basement of MECA’s Oak Street residence hall, among others.
Other pieces are in the works and not yet on public display.
Yurges’ original idea involved making something to infuse an unexpected pop of color in the gray winter palate of the long Maine winter. He set his sights on City Hall from the beginning, because he wanted to play off the building’s granite exterior as a backdrop for something colorful.
When he heard about the complications with his sister-in-law’s pregnancy, he narrowed his focus. As a parent of young twins, he knows well the joys of parenthood, and was hoping for the same for his sister-in-law and her husband.
And when he learned the sad fate of the baby, “that made it concrete for me,” he said. “I knew what I had to do. I invested myself into this project and the idea.”
Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or: