May 5, 2010

Open to the public

The city of Portland's catalog of public art has added several pages in recent years. We took a look at some of these highly visible displays and found a few clinkers, but also lots to like.

By Bob Keyes
Staff Writer

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Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer: Various public art projects in Portland, photographed on Friday, November 13, 2009.

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Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer: Various public art projects in Portland, photographed on Friday, November 13, 2009.

JEWEL BOX bus shelter, Laura Haddad & Tom Drugan, Congress Street near Monument Square

In 2003, the city decided to replace an aging bus shelter at the central bus stop on Congress Street just west of Monument Square. The public works department was prepared to flip through a catalog and order a generic bus shelter, similar to any other you might find in any other city. Instead, the Portland Public Art Committee asked if it could get involved in the project and come up with something more unique. The result is a glittering little jewel box, which serves both form and function while adding a pinch of spice to the downtown core. It's especially beautiful late in the day, when the setting sun bounces off the glass side, reflecting color and light. It's used heavily every day, and most people probably take it for granted, which makes it eminently successful. -- B.K.

A touch of whimsy on the streets of an old New England city. What is it? A bit of the seraglio abstracted from the Topkapi in Instanbul? A communal pump house from a great Turkish city? Something left over from turn-of-the-century Paris? It's exotic, soft, dreamy and a sin to desecrate. Bingo. -- P.I.

LONGFELLOW, Franklin Simmons, Longfellow Square, Congress and State streets

A Beaux Arts gem, this is one of the best-sited sculptures in Portland. On the elegantly proportioned pedestal sits the Maine author at an excellent height in an intimate and key spot on Congress Street. The academically robed Longfellow sits casually, yet attentively facing the city center. The work shows up even better in snowy winter. Approaching the holiday season, Longfellow is inevitably found holding a wrapped present. This is the whole package: the site, scale, subject and quality of the work all come together to serve our sense of history and cultural priorities. -- D.K.


THE MAINE LOBSTERMAN, Victor Kahill, Middle and Temple streets

The state commissioned this statue to commemorate Mainers who have dedicated their lives to fishing. The lobsterman kneels while pegging the lobster, a gesture that underscores the humble dignity of the fishing industry. The figure is a combination of physical power and well-seasoned finesse. His strength towers not above but among us. Simply as a sculpture, it is a standout work -- handsome and well composed. Moreover, the subject is perfect to underscore Portland's role as Maine's leading city and helps this well-sited work deliver a fantastic sense of place. -- D.K.

LIGHT SCULPTURES, Pandora LaCasse, Throughout downtown

The seasonal installation of lights that goes up throughout Portland's downtown is perhaps the city's most visible and signature presentation of public art. LaCasse's light sculptures tend to be basic but playful geometric forms. On trees or buildings, they are instantly recognizable. As well, they play up the charm of an attractive city that wears snow very well. From trees in Deering Oaks to the historic buildings on Congress Street, these pieces are something of a smart update on the simple idea of holiday decoration. This is Portland's best holiday suit, and it fits fabulously. -- D.K.

SOLDIERS AND SAILORS MONUMENT: OUR LADY OF VICTORIES, Franklin Simmons and William Morris Hunt, Monument Square

This masterpiece is Portland's most significant work of public art, as hinted by the name of the site: Monument Square. The Beaux Arts-style monument exudes the appropriate solemnity of its subject with a hinted wisp of transcendent grace. The monument notes it is dedicated to the 4,000 Portlanders who served in the Civil War and the 300 who gave their lives to the Union cause. Two sides of the magnificent pedestal, designed by the great American architect, William Morris Hunt, feature high-relief sculptures depicting Portland's soldiers and sailors. The bronze figure that crowns the monument is by Portland's Franklin Simmons. She is based on Minerva, the goddess of Wisdom and War, but by her name is deeply grounded in Maine's Catholic heritage. -- D.K.

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