The symmetry felt symbolic. Sculptor Jay Sawyer stood on scaffolding just outside the runway fence at Portland International Jetport adjusting his sphere sculpture, “A Spirit of Its Own.”

Just as the heavy metal piece was set in place by a boom truck, a jet rocketed by the runway behind him, gently lifting off into the spring morning air.

In a moment, two years of work, a lifetime of dreams and Sawyer’s personal tribute to a late mentor and friend all came to pass.

“I think this was meant to be,” he said quietly, checking his emotions. “This feels very spiritual, very significant.”

Earlier Friday, the artist and welder from Warren recalled the first time he traveled by air. It was the early 1980s, just after he graduated from Maine Maritime Academy. He drove to Portland in the early morning, turned down Jetport Access Road and watched as a plane lifted off.

“It was an emotional experience, and that feeling has never gone away,” he said.


In that very spot – where the road bends from a straightaway toward the terminal – Sawyer and his assistant Neil Pascal placed the piece Friday morning, with a lot of assistance from airport project engineer Arthur Laferriere and his staff.

The installation is the latest addition to the public art collection at the jetport. It joins a pair of granite sculptures by Steuben sculptor Jesse Salisbury grouped near the terminal, and a cluster of welded steel wildlife pieces by New England artist Wendy Klemperer situated along the primary entrance road.

This piece is sited along the Jetport Access Road near the South Portland entrance.

“A Spirit of Its Own” comes to the jetport as a long-term loan from the Davistown Museum in Liberty, which secured a grant to purchase the sculpture from Sawyer.

The Portland Public Art Committee accepted the piece into the city’s collection last fall. No money was exchanged in the deal, said Lin Lisberger, who chairs the committee.

The piece is made from salvaged shear rings that once reinforced roof trusses in a hangar at the now-closed Brunswick Naval Air Station in Brunswick. The late sculptor David McLaughlin of Liberty collected the rings and made spheres from them.


When he died in 2010, McLaughlin left the material to Sawyer, and Sawyer makes his spheres in tribute to his friend.

“A Spirit of Its Own” is actually two spheres. There’s a large outer ring, about 55 inches in diameter. Within it hangs a second, smaller ring of about 32 inches in diameter, which swings in the wind.

Sawyer guesses he used about 600 to 700 shear rings to make this piece and worked on it over the course of two winters.

The spheres are open, which allows passers-by to see the sky behind and through them.

Together, they sit on a stand of six tapered steel legs that reach almost 10 feet in the air. Including the cement base, the piece stands about 15 feet tall.

Airport director Paul Bradbury appreciates this piece because it was made from material used in Maine aviation. Additionally, the spherical shape represents a globe, which symbolizes the spirit of exploration and aviation.


Its placement alongside a runway is perfect, he said.

“You can see through it to the tarmac and the sky above,” he said.

Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:

Twitter: pphbkeyes

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