TWELVE OF BRYCE MUIR’S “Local Myths” collection pieces are currently on display at the Merrymeeting Arts Center’s gallery. CHRIS QUATTRUCCI / THE TIMES RECORD

TWELVE OF BRYCE MUIR’S “Local Myths” collection pieces are currently on display at the Merrymeeting Arts Center’s gallery. CHRIS QUATTRUCCI / THE TIMES RECORD

BOWDOINHAM

A collection short a few myths has staffers at Merrymeeting Arts Center trying to track down mysterious pieces of art and turning to the public for help.

Merrymeeting is searching for four missing pieces in late, local artist Bryce Muir’s “Local Myths” collection. Muir was the inspiration for the center, starting shortly after his death in 2005. The collection holds a special meaning to the center and the town.

“Bryce was very focused,” said his wife Peggy Muir. “We talked a lot about mythology and whether you can create a modern mythology that would have the timelessness and the ritual richness that non-western cultures and indigenous people have. That’s what he was trying to do for this town.”

Muir aimed to give Bowdoinham a modern mythology based on the culture and events he would see around town. Each sculpture, made from mixed hardwoods, was crafted to represent a season or month of the year. A vibrant, creative take on local wildlife brought each myth to life. For example, “Smelt Makes The Ice,” which depicts a humanfish hybrid of sorts hoisting a slab of ice over its head, pays homage to the area’s smelt fishing tradition.

BRYCE MUIR COURTESY OF MERRYMEETING ARTS CENTER

BRYCE MUIR COURTESY OF MERRYMEETING ARTS CENTER

Peggy Muir and her son Seth gifted the myths collection to the center as a part of the center’s 10th anniversary commemoration in June. The 12 pieces are prominently displayed in the gallery, with each telling a different myth related to town.

“I think he succeeded in creating a modern mythology,” said center board member Jan Marks. We’re e just the caretakers of it now, we need to keep it alive and make it accessible.”

But the collection of mythology is still four pieces short, and the arts center wants help finding the complete set.

“It’s preserving Bryce’s legacy, certainly,”Marks said. “To have them intact would just be spectacular for generations to come.”

The mystery of the four missing pieces won’t be easy to solve. Muir’s work is spread across the country, and abroad. Peggy Muir recalled a story of a man who once flew on a private plane from Chicago to pick up a piece he commissioned from Muir. The pieces that were sold each took their own journey. Bryce Muir completed the series in the mid-1990s, and his wife estimates the missing art from the collection could have been sold about 25 years ago.

“I could see the process of bringing them back being an interesting sort of historical trajectory, where have they been the last few years?” said center president Howard Solomon. “Part of what makes this town so vibrant is people are engaged and they’ll take on a task.”

The first step for arts center members is creating a missing flyer for the absent pieces. The sculptures include a raven, eagle, cricket and deer. Each piece has its own whimsical flair, something Muir was known for. The arts center and gallery will use its connections in the art world, including other museums and collectors, to try to pick up the trail of the missing sculptures and bring them home to join the collection.

Peggy Muir looks forward to the ruinification of the “Local Myths” collection, and finding out where the missing pieces have been on their journey.

One piece already included in the collection is named a surgeon who had Peggy Muir under his knife.

“The great heron (sculpture) is called the Tryzellaar,” Peggy Muir said. “Bryce made that when I had to have surgery. I had a benign tumor in my throat. He saw it as the great heron, the surgeon, going after the frog in my throat.”

Muir wrote a book connected to the collection, sharing the myths he had created to intertwine with Bowdoinham’s history and geography. Muir tried to capture the whimsy of the town, and Solomon said he could see the full collection capturing imaginations.

“It’s quite likely those pieces are not in Bowdoinham or in Maine,” he said. “These are sort of the entry points down into that cavern of memory. As we’ve cleared out the space and seeing it with fresh eyes, I could see it as an installation piece.”

The arts center likely will look for ways to engage the town in the search for the missing pieces, according to center officials.

“I think the word timelessness, how do you you capture the timelessness of a town or a landscape? Which is what myth does,” said Peggy Muir. “Each of these pieces can be a source of tremendous local memory.”

[email protected]timesrecord.com

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: