August 4, 2010

Sculpture on Fore St. attracts
steady flow of complaints

Fed up businesses say an art landscape on Fore Street has become an eyesore and they want it gone.

By Bob Keyes
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Some businesspeople have become so fed up with the public art installation at Boothby Square known as "Tracing the Fore" that they plan to ask the city to remove it.

20100803_ TraceFore
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“Tracing the Fore,” installed in 2007, consists of stainless steel waves emerging from a bed of sculpted fescue grass, which is supposed to grow tall and rustle in the wind to resemble the river’s waves. The problem is, the grass has never taken.

Photos by Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

20100803_ TraceFore
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Weeds now dominate "Tracing the Fore."

"It's a bunch of dangerous razors protruding from a weed patch," said Matthew Cardente, a commercial real estate broker who has an office at 322 Fore St., overlooking the landscape art installation. "It's always been bad, but when you see it four or five times a day, it's even worse."

The piece, installed in 2007, is designed to mimic Portland's old waterfront, which followed what is now Fore Street.

Stainless steel waves emerge from a bed of sculpted fescue grass, which is supposed to grow tall and rustle in the wind to resemble the river's waves. The problem is, the grass has never taken. Instead, it has been dominated by weeds, leaving the installation short of the expectations the Portland Public Art Committee had when it commissioned the piece.

"We are working to address the concerns of the piece," said Jack Soley, chairman of the public art panel. "We have never been fully satisfied ourselves. I and other members of the committee have had issues with that piece, and we have tried to address them. But for whatever reasons -- the combination of soils and sun and fertilizer -- the grass is not displacing the weeds."

Ideally, the grass would be maintained at a level of 8 to 9 inches, Soley said. At that height, it's harder to distinguish it from the weeds. A few weeks ago, it grew much longer, giving the piece a shabby look, he said.

After considering proposals from various artists and holding several public meetings on the subject, the Public Art Committee accepted the proposal by the Massachusetts artist Shauna Gillies-Smith to design and install "Tracing the Fore."

At the time, the committee said it would take as long as three years for the piece to fully come into form.

The cost of the project, including materials, labor and artist fees, was initially estimated at $65,000, but rose to $135,000.

Cardente and other business people in the Boothby Square area are tired of waiting. They have been talking among themselves for months, and recently began circulating a letter that they intend to submit to City Hall, asking that the piece be scrubbed and the square returned to a more pedestrian-friendly use.

"Our hope is that there is an overwhelming level of support (to remove the installation). Our hope is that our letter will initiate enough discussion to have a public meeting to discuss it further. If that does not work, we'll go to an official petition," Cardente said.

Cardente and others say "Tracing the Fore" is unsafe and unsightly.

"I don't care if it's the smoothest metal in the world, you have bicyclists riding through in there. In the winter, snow covers it and people walking through can trip over the metal. It's a hazard," Cardente said.

Barbie Asali, who manages Rosie's, a restaurant and pub that faces the piece, said she hears complaints almost every day. "Because my door is right there, we get the brunt of it. It is just tiresome to talk to so many people who are so unhappy about it," she said. "People are confused about what it is. It's just an eyesore."

Soley has asked for an opinion from the city attorney's office about the art committee's options and contractual obligations to the artist. The committee has not had any direct contact with Gillies-Smith recently. She is aware of the committee's concerns, Soley said.

Gillies-Smith could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

The art committee, which is composed of citizen volunteers, discusses the status of the project at virtually every meeting, Soley said.

"We have been down there on hands and knees, weeding the piece ourselves," he said. "There is not a lot of money in the city budget for this kind of work. We have put a lot of time and attention into it, and it is still not succeeding. I hope to find a solution, and that is why I have asked what our contractual obligations are."


Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:


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