At the end of September, the artist Randy Regier and his wife, Vicki, loaded “NuPenny’s Last Stand,” his mobile, imaginary toy store, on the back of a trailer and drove it from their home in Kansas to an industrial corner at Thompson’s Point in Portland, near where the Amtrak Downeaster idles.

They unloaded it, plugged it in and drove back home to Kansas, confident people would discover the “NuPenny” art installation on their own, without being directed.

“My experience has been, over the last 10 years or so, just put it somewhere and leave it alone and let it do its own thing,” said Regier, who graduated from the master’s program at Maine College of Art in 2007 and created an early incarnation of “NuPenny” in Maine in 2009. “People respond to it more organically than if it’s sprayed in their face. The less I try to convince people to see my work and the less I try to convince them to expect something from it, the experience becomes more theirs. They take more ownership of it. I think there is something to be said for the feeling that you discovered something.”

“NuPenny’s Last Stand” is filled with toys that Regier dreamed about as a kid. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

That sense of discovery is the root of “NuPenny’s Last Stand.” It’s filled with the toys that Regier dreamed about growing up in Nebraska – cool cars that look like they are designed for outer space, flying machines and other things from his imagination, all encased in a glass cube building with see-through windows and door, a nifty art deco and lighted dome on top.

It’s lit from the inside, and glows like a diamond in the night. Some of the toys are mechanized.

For the Portland installation, Regier added a mail slot. Anyone who drops a note will get a response. Technically, he is a sculptor. But he’s really an imagineer.

“Randy is one of those people, he is one-of-a-kind,” said Chris Thompson, the developer of Thompson’s Point, who also was one of Regier’s professors at MECA when Thompson taught art history there. “He is a special, exceptional person who wants to make the world better and more interesting, and he wants to use his work to help facilitate that for people. He should have been the teacher. I feel like I learned more from him than I taught.”

When Thompson approached Regier about placing a piece of art at Thompson’s Point, Regier suggested “NuPenny’s Last Stand.”

It’s a bit of a homecoming. Regier conceived the piece as a graduate student at MECA and began bringing it to life in 2009 when he got a $20,000 grant from the Harry Faust Art Fund, which at the time was administered by the Maine Arts Commission. Regier used the money to create life-scale toys from 20th century industrial, scientific and household items, and displayed those toys in former storefronts and mills that gave them a timestamp of anything but the present. His first installation was in Waterville, in a glassed-in vestibule on Water Street, and he followed that with installations in Portland and Saco.

Later, after he returned home to the Midwest, he created the current structure that houses the toys – the NuPenny store itself – from steel cabinets salvaged from an electrical substation. That allowed him to transport the piece as a self-contained unit. Instead of having to find buildings to display his toys, he created his own building. He’s taken “NuPenny’s Last Stand” around the country, showing it in Florida, New York, Illinois and at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas.

Independent curator Bethany Engstrom happened on “NuPenny” during a recent trip to Thompson’s Point. “‘NuPenny’ is something to be discovered, something to stumble upon, and when you do, you are presented with a wonderful sense of wonder,” she wrote in an email. “It weaves a narrative of the nostalgic that presents a sense of something familiar and comfortable, yet, not quite, bringing the essence of the nostalgic into the contemporary realm. ‘NuPenny’ is something that we can all relate to but different for everyone.”

Before he placed it in its current post-industrial setting at Thompson’s Point, Regier displayed “NuPenny’s Last Stand” in a rolling prairie in Alma, Kansas. When lit at night, it attracted frogs, who climbed on the glass, and birds, who nested in its warmth. Deer slept in its glow.

The bird nest remains, visible above the front center door. “I don’t ever break down bird nests anywhere. I feel they are kind of sacred,” Regier said. “It kind of hurt to take it away from its inhabitants, but it survived the whole trip. My fantasy is that birds in Maine will activate the nest and it will become home to living creatures, so it’s not just a mechanical piece of art. If animals get inside and nest, absolutely let them. I completely celebrate that. I have imposed this thing in the landscape. If the wildlife around it want to use it, absolutely.”

“NuPenny’s Last Stand” by former Maine artist Randy Regier at Thompson’s Point. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“NuPenny’s Last Stand” is sited near a parking lot near Van Aken Way, used by Thompson’s Point employees and next to a newly renovated building that is now home to three artist studios, including those of Hannah Barnes, Rachel Gloria Adams and Ryan Adams. Indigo Arts Alliance recently used the space, known as Burbicorn, for an event. Thompson loves the organic artistic vibe that’s developing at Thompson’s Point, and “NuPenny’s Last Stand” is adding to the excitement.

Peter Bissell, co-owner of Bissell Brothers brewery, has twice experienced “NuPenny” by chance. The first time was many years ago when Regier set up his toys in what is now the New Systems Exhibition space in East Bayside. When Bissell saw it then, he wanted to enter the store and look at the toys. “Was it real? How do I get in?” he wondered.

The second time was more recently, at Thompson’s Point, where the brewery is located. Both times, the piece captured his attention and imagination with what he described as its “atomic age imagery” and mystery.

“It’s pure art,” Bissell said. “It is art for art’s sake. There is no commercial component to it. In this day and age, that is hard to find – something done for the sake of doing it. That does not happen much.”

Through word of mouth and social media, people are discovering “NuPenny,” Thompson said. “It has traveled widely, and we are honored to have it living at Thompson’s Point as long as it can.”

How long is an open question.

Regier and his wife own the piece. Thompson’s Point paid to transport it from Kansas. Regier intends to let it stay at least a year, longer if possible.

“They paid to get it there, so it should be there a while,” he said by phone from Kansas. “Who knows? It could be the rest of my life or beyond, and that was our understanding. If at some point we agree, I will just never come back for it. It could grow old there, and that is OK too.”

He likes that idea – a lot. Regier likes the possibility of an 8-year-old child discovering “NuPenny’s Last Stand” by chance, of being drawn to the light of this special store and gazing with wonder at the toys inside. And he likes the possibility of that 8-year-old returning as a 60-year-old to show “NuPenny” to their grandkids.

“That would be amazing,” Regier said. “I won’t be there to see it, but I know it could happen. And I think that would be the most meaningful outcome of the work that I could imagine.”


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