September 21, 2010

Preserve 'Tracing the Fore,' artist Shauna Gillies-Smith says

Shauna Gillies-Smith plans to meet with city officials to keep the unloved public art from being scrapped.

By Tom Bell
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — The artist who created "Tracing the Fore," the unpopular public art in Boothby Square, says she wants to work with city officials to find a way to save the piece.

click image to enlarge

Tracing the Fore at Boothby Square in Portland.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

"My foremost goal is to find if there is a resolution that doesn't involve scrapping the project," Shauna Gillies-Smith said Monday in a telephone interview.

The grass-and-steel sculpture is supposed to mimic the rolling waves of the Fore River, but city maintenance crews have been fighting a losing battle against crabgrass and other weeds since the piece was installed almost four years ago.

The Portland Public Art Committee is considering a proposal to dismantle it or put it in storage so it could be installed elsewhere when funding is available.

Whatever the committee decides to do, Gillies-Smith said, she will "work with the committee as they desire."

Gillies-Smith teaches at Harvard University and is founding principal of the architecture firm Ground Inc., based in Somerville, Mass. She said she plans to come to Portland next month -- possibly on Oct. 13 -- to discuss the issue with city officials.

Gillies-Smith did not attend the Public Art Committee's meeting last Wednesday, when it reached consensus to remove the piece from Boothby Square.

In the interview Monday, she said she was on business in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. She said she will likely be in Abu Dhabi again when the committee meets Oct. 20 to take a formal vote on a recommendation to the City Council.

Jack Soley, the committee's chair, said he is trying to set up a meeting within the next few weeks with Gillies-Smith and City Planner Alex Jaegerman.

The Public Arts Committee was undecided last week on what to do with "Tracing the Fore" after its removal.

The city has the legal right to remove it and sell its stainless steel for scrap. Some committee members would rather move the piece to a more open setting, where they believe it would work better artistically. However, the city can't relocate the sculpture without the artist's permission.

Soley said the piece could be stored in a granite storage area at the city-owned Evergreen Cemetery. He said there is no money in the city's arts budget to install the piece elsewhere, so "someone who really adores the piece" would have to pick up the cost, which hasn't been determined.

When the committee awarded Gillies-Smith the project in 2003, she said it would cost $50,000. The city ended up spending $135,000 on the project, including installation.

It would cost $15,000 or less to remove and scrap the sculpture, according to a tentative estimate. Business owners in the area, who say the piece is unattractive and even unsafe, say they can raise money to remove it, but not to relocate it.

A substantial amount of concrete at the base of the piece makes it difficult to remove, Soley said.

The sculpture's stainless steel waves emerge from a bed of sculpted fescue grass, which is supposed to grow tall and rustle in the wind.

But when the piece was installed, Soley said, the soil contained weeds. In addition, a mix of fescue seed was planted, yielding grass that grew at various heights. And the sand spread on city streets in the winter contains crabgrass seeds.

If the piece were to be installed in a location away from city streets, it would work as intended, Soley said.

Pandora LaCasse, a committee member who creates public art with lights, said the piece hasn't worked in Boothby Square because the square is too confined and the piece is bound by granite. She said the piece needs to be in an open area so it can "flow."

"Everybody talks about the grass," she said. "To me, the site is the issue. It's not that it's a bad piece."

Soley said the committee will hold a public hearing Oct. 20 before it votes on its recommendation to the City Council.


Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:


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