Earle Shettleworth was 14 when he joined the city’s first historic preservation committee.
It was 1962, one year after development consumed one of the city’s most notable buildings, Union Station.
Its destruction motivated concerned citizens to act, the young Shettleworth among them. Two years later, the committee morphed into Greater Portland Landmarks, which was chartered in 1964 to save historic buildings through research, education and advocacy.
Though still legally underage, Shettleworth was among those who signed the paperwork that established the preservation organization.
With its 50th anniversary at hand in 2014, Greater Portland Landmarks turned to Shettleworth and two of Maine’s most respected curators to jury a photography exhibition that documents changes in Portland architecture and cityscape over 50 years.
“Images of Change: Greater Portland’s Cityscapes Since 1960” features 72 photographs by 44 artists, who demonstrate how Portland’s buildings, streetscapes, neighborhoods have been saved, lost and changed.
It opens Friday and remains on view through Feb. 28 in the Lewis Gallery at the Portland Public Library.
“The great value of these photos is they show the untarnished and un-burnished look of the city before its renaissance,” said Shettleworth, who followed his schoolboy passion for history into a career in historic preservation. He works as director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission and as the State Historic Preservation Officer.
In addition to Shettleworth, the other curators are Bruce Brown, curator emeritus at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, and Susan Danly, the recently retired curator of graphics, photography and contemporary art the Portland Museum of Art.
Hilary Bassett, executive director of Greater Portland Landmarks, called the trio “the best curators in the state,” citing their professional experience as well as their passion for Portland.
BUILDING A BETTER TOMORROW
Collectively, the photographs draw attention to Portland’s built environment, question the city’s past architectural stewardship and highlight the city’s strength as a photographic center, Danly said.
“This is a show whose time has come, and in absolutely the right venue, to call attention to what Portland used to look like and the preservation issues that we’re dealing with today,” she said. “Our quality of life is dependent on our architectural environment. Our architecture gives us our character and our image. It’s why people get off the cruise ships and walk around.”
The exhibition begins a year-long effort of Greater Portland Landmarks to call attention to the role of historic preservation in Portland and its link to quality of life, community sustainability and economic vitality, said Bassett.
The photography show offers a timeline view of he city from the 1970s up through today, in color and black and white. There’s also a lecture series, and in November Greater Portland Landmarks will honor Shettelworth at its Founders’ Night Celebration.
The library exhibition is an outgrowth of a smaller photography show with a similar theme hosted by the Bayside gallery Zero Station a few years ago. This one is bigger with wider public access in the library’s first-floor gallery.
The exhibition included photographs from a variety of sources. Greater Portland Landmarks issued a call-for-entries, prompting about 250 submissions.
The trio of Shettleworth, Danly and Brown judged the submissions, settling on 72.
They chose photos from downtown, the Old Port, Munjoy Hill and the West End, in color and black and white. They show Portland in the glory of four seasons, the grit of urban life and the romance of city living.
Included are photographs of Mason Philips Smith, who like Shettleworth was part of the original 1962 committee that got the preservation ball rolling in town. Smith documented the Spring Street neighborhood in the early 1960s, showing declining urban buildings caught between their stately past and just trying to hang on.
C.C. Church has been photographing Portland for decades, and has a trove of photographs from the Old Port before its renaissance, as well as other parts of the city. In the early 1970s, Greater Portland Landmarks hired Nicholas Dean to photograph buildings for a Portland history book. Two images from those sessions are in this exhibition, showing an historic house in its original location on Pleasant Street and after its move to Falmouth.
Many of the most recognized names in contemporary Maine photography are represented, including Brian Vanden Brink, Jan Pieter van Voorst van Beest, David Wade, Jay York, Diane Hudson, Matthew Robbins and Mark Marchesi.
Brown, a Portland native, said working on this exhibition made him proud of his city, and helped him view it with new appreciation. He walks from the Eastern Prom to downtown nearly every day, and feels grateful to live in a beautiful place.
“I am always struck by the presence of the buildings around me, and I think how lucky I am to live here,” he said.
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at: