A rendering depicts what a section of the City of Hidden Figures mural by Abigail Gray Swartz and her helpers might look like at Running With Scissors in Portland.

Abigail Gray Swartz, the Freeport artist whose painting of Rosie the Riveter wearing a pink pussyhat made the cover of the New Yorker last year, will paint an East Bayside building with a mural of under-appreciated female artists from Maine, the first step in a national public art project to honor women by placing their images in high-profile public places.

Swartz’ City of Hidden Figures project will attempt to highlight women whose work has been hidden from the history books by painting murals, erecting statues and renaming streets to celebrate their accomplishments.

Abigail Gray Swartz said, “It’s important to celebrate women written out of history, to know their names, recognize their work and read their quotes.”

“Now is a good time to have this conversation, not just because the women’s movement is having a second birth, but because this can be part of a larger conversation about how we remember history and honor history and how history evolves in our memory,” she said. “It’s important to celebrate women written out of history, to know their names, recognize their work and read their quotes.”

Swartz will begin the Portland project with a block party Saturday at the artist collective Running With Scissors, 250 Anderson St., Portland, where Swartz and a team of helpers will paint the mural this summer. The Portland mural will feature the painter Dahlov Ipcar, sculptor Louise Nevelson and basketmaker Mary Mitchell Gabriel with portraits of each artist, images of each artist’s work, as well as a quote.

Ipcar was a painter from Georgetown who also illustrated and wrote books for children. She died last year at age 99. Nevelson, known for her monumental sculptures made from found objects, grew up in Rockland. Gabriel, a Passamaquoddy from Princeton, made sweetgrass and brown ash baskets and was named a National Heritage Fellow in 1994.

Swartz is raising $40,000 for the Portland mural.

She got the idea after reading an essay by Rebecca Solnit in the New Yorker, in which the author takes readers on a journey of New York monuments honoring men. Swartz’s take-away: There’s a shocking lack of women celebrated in public spaces.

She was further emboldened after attending a rally in Portland’s Monument Square and was struck by the “Our Lady of Victories” war memorial. Portland’s most prominent piece of public art uses an anonymous female figure to honor the 5,000 soldiers from Portland who died in the Civil War.

Having just read Solnit’s essay, Swartz was struck by the irony of it all. “Women sacrifice so much in war, as do the soldiers, and yet women aren’t often in the room when it’s decided to go to war,” she said.

The City of Hidden Figures project will attempt to elevate women so they’re depicted and portrayed equally as men. After Portland, she hopes to expand the project to five sister cities across the country.

Reflective of her mission, Swartz will work with local girls groups to complete the mural, and the artist also will schedule community days when people can join the work team if they wish to contribute.

Saturday’s block party is the official launch of the project, although Swartz has already begun raising money and awareness. To encourage donations and enthusiasm, she will give away cards, posters and items from local businesses as a reward to those who donate.

Her goals include inspiring girls by presenting women as heroes equal to men, teaching the community about local female heroes and lifting what she calls “often-unheard voices and values.” She also hopes to create work for female artists through the project.

The wall she will paint is 114 feet long and 17 feet tall. In addition to doing the mural in Portland and the sister-cities project, Swartz hopes to create additional public art spaces for other Maine artists “to have opportunities to build their own portfolios, for their voices to be heard and visions to be seen.”

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

[email protected]

Twitter: pphbkeyes

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