Tuesday, January 4, 2011

January 11, 2011

Interesting date, 1/11/11.

Maine has a lot of statues and public art pieces. I am sort of fascinated by them and once thought I would like to take pictures of as many as I could find, and perhaps publish it. But Maine Arts Commission printed a little booklet and I thought I could not compete with them. I bought a few and sent them to out-of-staters I thought might be interested.

I am not very fond of "modern art" where statues are concerned. They are supposed to have meanings, which I don't always get, and often I don't find them very artistic at all. There was a statue in a small park by Portland's Baxter Boulevard (the Baxters were very benevolent citizens who donated lots of land for public use, and Percival Baxter was one of our governors. Anyway, back to the statue I really liked by the boulevard --
I could relate to it: It was a tall stalk with a burst open pod at the top. It looked like a milkweed pod and the star-shaped seeds bursting forth seemed to me to speak of a hopeful future, regeneration; even a giving of onesself. It had developed a nice coppery patina which made it even more attractive, in my untutored eye. Alas, that lovely piece of art has been replaced by what I think is a rather cold and ugly steel structure which I get no message from. It is cold and steely stark. If any who happens to read this blog knows the meaning of that piece, I would welcome enlightenment.

A few years ago an artist from out of state was commissioned to create something to put in the Old Port area of Portland. She devised a series of curving steel blades which were supposed to resemble the ripples of the Fore River, and between the blades the city was to, and did, plant some grasses which would sway with the wind, making the visual more realistic. The grass did not do well in our Maine atmosphere, and the steel blades looked like a couple of scrapped guillotines. The city spent hours and dollars trying to keep the weeds down and the grasses up to no avail. The piece will be removed, hopefully placed somewhere out of the way where no one has to look at it. There are rules about what the city can do with a piece of art once it accepts it, and the artist has a good deal of say in the matter. The artist who created that monstrosity made several trips to Portland to argue her case for keeping it, but the citizenry prevailed. Now the "arts commission" for the city will have to spend a few more of our treasure to find something else to fill the spot. I would suggest the simply plant appropriate flowers as they do in some other areas.

Burr Miller, a sculptor of some renown was a resident of Kennebunk Beach when I was young. His wife was a Russian artist or vocalist - I can't remember which. What I remember was that someone said to me, "Burr Miller's wife is a "White Russian." I had no idea what that meant, but I suppose that meant she was not of Oriental persuasion. Anyway, she was a very aristocratic appearing woman, and he was a somewhat older looking man suffering, I think, from MS. They had two children, who never attended local schools to my knowledge. Perhaps they were home schooled, which would have been quite unusual in the early fifties.Burr Miller sculpted a statue of Thomas Brackett Reed which stands on the Western Promenade in Portland. It is a very stately statue of a Maine Representative who became the 38th speaker of the United States House under Grover Cleveland.

Some of my favorite statues are two children sitting on a bench reading, which is by the door of the Kennebunk Library; the dolphins playing in a circle in the Old Port of Portland; the well known lobsterman, also in Portland in the Old Port. Now I have a question about that statue because I found an article that said it is situated at the tip of Bailey Island. Perhaps there are two versions. I will have to drive over the old cribstone bridge to the island and see if in fact there is one there. And is it the same one? There is a darling little "water girl" holding a leaking water bowl in Portland. It has been in several different places, and I am not sure where it stands at this writing. The last time I saw her she was in front of the public library,and her bowl was empty. In Longfellow Square in Portland there is a large statue of Henry sitting in his chair. It has been carefully restored in recent years and somewhat recently he was turned to face in a different direction, to what purpose I do not know. The restoration which included a good cleaning off of the friendly pigeon droppings, was accomplished by a fund raising done by school children, in large part encouraged by Evelyn Densmore, their teacher.

There is a large collection of marble statuary and sculpture in the Portland Museum of Art, one very famous Pearl Diver. A sad piece for the diver has succumbed and is stretched out over a raised base.
Bernard Langlais was a wood sculptor. He would take a chunk of wood, almost any size including very large logs,and envision various people, animals, and objects. A man named Daniels who was a radio repairman, took some scrap and made a "road runner" out of it and before he could toss it into the scrap heap, someone bought it. From there a new career for Mr. Daniels, he made many metal sculptures including a brave St.George facing down a ferocious dragon. The man who created LO
VE named Robert Indiana was in Maine when he got that clever inspiration which became familiar everywhere. Nearly every town has a Civil War Memorial. They all look alike to me, but I am told they are not all of the same hero. I like art that looks like something so I barely give a second glance to a lot of modern pieces. I don't understand many of them. I like outdoor pieces. One of the newer pieces in Portland is just outside the baseball park. It is of a family, Mom, Dad and two little kids. It was very controversial because it is a generic American family. The minority community complained that it was not representative of them: not Hispanic, African-American or Asian. It was privately commissioned and the "arts committee" finally allowed it to be put in place. It's a nice work and a fitting depiction of the a family out for a good time. I guess it looks Caucasian, but it is after all bronze in color. To me it just looks like a really great family enjoying a day at the ball park.

I am fascinated that anyone can take a piece of wood, a chunk of marble or other stone, a lump of clay. or in Mr. Daniels' case, a heap of scrap metal, and see it's potential. I have often thought I would like to take a lump of clay and make a head just for the experience. I don't think it would become a museum piece but maybe someone some day would find it tucked away in the back of the garage and say, "I wonder what she was thinking when she did that?" I tried whittling once. It looks so easy and the block of wood was already marked off.
The poor little bird came out looking like a misformed embryo of a sea creature. I did gain even more admiration for clever people who take a pen knife and block of wood and turn out a credible bird or bunny.

Another nice thing about statues is you can stare at them and look at them from every angle and they don't get angry at your rudeness, or blush at your critical eye, or say "What are you lookin' at?" I like statues. I consider them nice assets of the community.


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