“Many Stitches”

Perfection not achieved! Three art critics wrote a guest column (“Proposed Cabot Mill mural misses the mark,” June 7), before it is even up! They say the artwork doesn’t reveal enough about the site’s history, including its dark parts, and the process of developing the project was not inclusive enough. Whatever its imperfections, Brunswick Public Art is thrilled to bring this huge, colorful mural to Brunswick people and visitors later this summer, with its uplifting themes of increasing diversity and community cooperation. The meaning of art is experienced individually!

We acknowledge the heartfelt sincerity of these critics, and the validity of their mission: to increase our awareness of the indigenous Wabanaki people who lived here before the Europeans arrived. We support examining the shameful history of our relations with these Native Americans, right up to the present day; understanding their culture; and recognizing their inherent sovereignty. The environmental degradation resulting from industrialization of the river, plus the worker and child abuse associated with textile mill operations, are also real. We stand with the guest column writers about the importance of recognizing and dealing with these issues constructively. This is not the purpose of the Cabot Mill mural project, however.

BPA’s mission is compatible but different. It is to “inspire and promote quality public art that captures the spirit, values, and visions of our diverse community.” After more than 10 years of fits and starts, many community discussions, and the travail of a pandemic, our intent is to create a colorful, artistic mural on Cabot Mill that celebrates our emergence from the pandemic, resilience and shared community interest in building a just and sustainable future. One contemporary phenomenon in Brunswick is increasing diversity. This is the dominant theme of the mural artwork, one which most people in Brunswick have embraced enthusiastically. The artists have done so with joy and skill, emphasizing contemporary figures. This is their art, for our enjoyment and contemplation.

A signature positive achievement has been the repurposing and revitalization of Cabot Mill itself, under the ownership of Waterfront Maine, founded by the late Coleman Burke. He purchased the mill in 1986. Since then, the mill has been transformed from a stately but dilapidated, underutilized property to a bustling, multi-use complex that enriches our town’s ambiance. This didn’t happen by accident. It took vision, investment, skill, persistence, patience, and time, all provided by Waterfront Maine. They deserve our grateful recognition.

In the parallel universe of “inspiring and promoting quality public art,” the same elements are required to get good results. Putting public art on Cabot Mill has been a goal of Brunswick Public Art’s founder from before BPA even came into existence, born during the process of helping create the “Dance of Two Cultures” mural at 11 Pleasant St. Undoubtedly the all-volunteer BPA public art enthusiasts missed opportunities and made mistakes. In the public art arena, one undeniable reality is the quest for the ideal process and the artwork everyone will like is a sure-fire recipe for not accomplishing anything.

As everyone grew weary of the pandemic, BPA revived the Cabot Mill mural project, intending to emphasize emerging from the doldrums into a new era of sustainable community building and human cooperation – an uplifting vision. Two guiding realities emerged: the mural had to be adhered to the existing corrugated metal siding, and this project had to happen in 2022. The painted corrugated metal siding of this wall of Cabot Mill, with its undulating surface, determined the style of art required – a representative landscape, limited detail, and a few large figures. And we had to raise the money to pay for the project in about six months.

BPA seized the opportunity, focusing on the uplifting themes of diversity and community cooperation. The artists embraced the challenge and spent hundreds of hours solving technical problems and enhancing the art, meeting the requirements of simple and representative. The figures represent our increasing diversity. They are a design engineer and local artist; a Native American; the mill owner/investor; a Franco-American textile worker; an Asian musician; and a “new Mainer” (African immigrant). Commemorating the historic use of the mill with the fabric motif of the landscape, these diverse people are collaborating in the present to build their collective future.

BPA hopes that Brunswick people and visitors will enjoy this Cabot Mill mural, once installed, and contemplate its meaning to them. It’s titled “Many Stitches” for a reason. Who are these people? What is their history? What are their lives like today? Can a mural show the value of true understanding, kindness, caring for each other, and cooperating to build a better world? Can it possibly inspire this behavior? Let’s learn from the art, and work together toward positive, common goals, lifting each other up as we go. This is our vision.

Susan Weems is a regional arts educator, business owner and founder of Brunswick Public Art; Steve Weems is a retired businessman, solar energy advocate, and community activist.

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