More than 50 Portlanders turned out Tuesday to debate and discuss three preliminary designs for a public art project proposed for Woodfords Corner, a busy five-way intersection along Forest Avenue.

It was the first look at the three options, unveiled by Portland artist Aaron Stephan for a streetlight sculpture that would be placed in a new plaza being planned in front of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows building at 651 Forest Ave.

After Stephan explained his artistic vision behind the sculptures, more than a dozen people asked questions and offered polite feedback. Only three people offered any objection to the project, and almost everyone in the room indicated support for one of the designs.

It was the first of two public meetings to discuss the designs with Stephan and provide the city with feedback on preferences. The next meeting will take place from 5-6 p.m. Wednesday in Room 3 of the Portland Public Library with the city’s Public Art Committee. Feedback can be submitted on the city’s website for about two weeks, officials said. After that, Stephan will finalize the work and come back to the Committee in the fall for one last review. Construction on the project is expected to begin next summer.

All three designs are made out of ordinary streetlights. One design is a cluster of five double-headed streetlights twisted into the form of a tree. One has streetlights clustered tight at the base and rising straight up as they spread apart. A third design, with three streetlights, has a curved, swirling design.

At the end of the meeting, the group took an informal straw poll and about 15 people indicated support for the tree-like sculpture. About five people each indicated support for the other two options.


Stephan, who designed the two-story table and chairs sculpture in University of Southern Maine’s Abromson Center, said much of his artistic vision was connected to honoring the Odd Fellows building and its recently renovated clock tower. The sculpture will sit in a newly created plaza space in front of the building, and city officials said the streetscape will include raised planters and rows of trees on either side of the plaza. The sculpture is expected to be about 20 feet high – roughly the height of the second floor windows of the hall – and be about the same height as the trees.

He also provided some technical detail: He will use tapered aluminum poles, that he will bend, weld and complete with a brush aluminum finish that is typical of a standard light pole. The bulbs are energy-efficient LED lights, with a frosted globe to diffuse the light and protect the bulb.

“It was important to run with this idea that I was pulling something out of the environment and hopefully creating something magical out of that,” Stephan said.

He said the 10 bulbs used for the tree-like design would use the same energy as one and a half regular street lights, but provide “enough of a glow to get this transformative effect in the snow.” The design for the base isn’t finalized, but he wants to put it on a roughly one-foot high platform. Someone in the audience suggested circling the base with seating.

Stephan was chosen in June by the City Council – at the recommendation of the Public Art Committee – to design the sculpture. The $25,000 for the project is coming from surplus funds in the art committee’s budget, which receives 0.5 percent of the city’s Capital Improvement Program. The current CIP budget is $12.9 million.

Stephan did similar street lamp sculptures for the W.G. Mallett School in Farmington a few years ago, and a series of five of his lamp sculptures is on display at Texas Tech University.


The concept of using streetlamps for a sculpture was criticized by some Portland residents when it was first presented in March. As public concern grew, the City Council in April delayed taking action on the art committee’s request to expend their funds to allow more public outreach. They moved forward with the plan in June, despite having reservations.

By contrast, Tuesday’s meeting was calm and polite, with audience members thanking Stephan for coming out to explain the project and even dissenters making it clear they meant no disrespect to the artist, even if they didn’t support the project.

“I’ve lived here 43 years,” Carolyn Mitchell said. “I’m really, really proud. I think this kind of gathering is hugely important and brings together a sense of community that I have not felt in the past.”

David Moltz, a sculpture skeptic at first, said he was “very pleasantly surprised” by the meeting and wound up supporting the idea despite writing a letter to the editor criticizing the “so-called experts” on the Art Committee for the process.

“I came expecting to not like it,” Moltz said of the sculpture. “But seeing the choices and seeing it in place and lit up, I came to really appreciate it.”

Like all art, every person saw something different in the designs. Some thought the tree-like design was a nod to the city’s long-ago moniker of “Forest City,” while others asked Stephan if the five light poles symbolized the five roads that meet at Woodfords Corner.


“I may use that,” Stephan said, to laughter.

Another person said the swirling design made her think of the dance companies that are located in the area.

The few dissenters said they worried that the sculpture would take away from the lines and beauty of the renovated Odd Fellows Hall, or clash with its historic ambiance.

“I really value those two buildings. I love that the clock is working again,” said Bobbi Cope, a lifelong resident of the area. The “busy-ness” of the sculpture will detract from the area’s architecture. “The corner does not need to be re-identified. It needs to be the focus of what it already is.”

Oddfellows Hall member Bill Loeffler said that contrast of old and new is what he liked: “I think a blending of the old and new is fantastic. I love it,” he said to scattered applause.

Stephen Bither said he hoped historic preservation experts would weigh in on whether the sculpture would block the view of Odd Fellows Hall. “Not to be disrespectful to you,” Bither said to Stephan. If the sculpture goes forward, “I could live with it, but I’d be disappointed.”

The sculpture is part of a $2.6 million makeover of Woodfords Corner that will create a new plaza in front of the Odd Fellows building by eliminating a right-turn lane. Bike lanes will be added, a new railroad crossing will be installed and Forest Avenue north of Ocean Avenue will be reconfigured to have two travel lanes in each direction.

The project also includes street curb extensions, also known as bump-outs, to make the intersection safer for pedestrians. Street furniture, such as benches and bike racks, would also be added.

The five-way intersection handles an average of about 22,000 vehicles a day, according to the Maine Department of Transportation.

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