In Plain Sight: Rural Maine

  • September 08, 2017


By Alex Moreno

Maine is huge. Zoom out on a map of New England and you’ll see that it’s pretty much the size of Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. Living in quiet, coastal Brunswick sometimes makes me forget about the vastness of the state, but on my most recent public-art-photography tour, I was dutifully reminded.

This final trip of mine for the Arts Commission sent me smack in the middle of Maine, off busy highways and onto quiet two-way roads lined with picturesque farms, general stores owned by “Clark” and “Susan” and “Dave”, and on a special occasion, a gang of excited turkeys. Rural Maine. Rural America! Here’s a fun fact: With 61.3% of its population living in rural areas, Maine is (as of the 2010 census) THE most rural state in the country. People forget! I forget!

On the way to the first public art location, I was welcomed into its neighboring town by a colorful, hand-painted sign.  As I drove, the data-driven music playing from my phone would cut out for miles at a time, establishing a secure sense of place for me on my more-silent-than-I’d-prefer trip to SeDoMoCha Middle School.

Upon entering the school I was immediately lifted. Suspended from the ceiling of the entry hall is Aaron Stephan’s Sphere, a huge sculpture of interlocking school chairs that pricked the back of my neck and demanded my full attention. To me, the piece seemed to be drawing my focus to the importance of strength in the parts of a whole. Classrooms depend on chairs the way that students depend on others support. Support that Stephan symbolizes through the physical structure of Sphere. 

Another stop on my trip was Mill Stream Elementary School. Mill Stream proved to be a difficult school to photograph, entirely because I ended up spending close to fifteen minutes wandering its halls, searching for the art of Julianne Swartz. She was the last artist on my list and I couldn’t find her anywhere.

After triggering the automatic hallway lights for the third time, I gave in and used my pocket-sized internet machine (iPhone) to deliver me the answers. Julianne Swartz’s website did all the talking I needed, and all I had to do was turn my head to find what I was looking for.

In every corner of the school,  rectangular boxes were placed with optical lenses as screens. They’re all perched on metal poles meant to stand at the eye level of their pint-sized audience, and the lenses obscure the outside views from the school by multiplying and flipping them. The art was so subtle that I passed each box a number of times, but once I got up close I understood how the work challenged the perspectives of everyone who viewed it.

And yes, Julianne Swartz’s art was indeed hidden in plain sight. A neat little conclusion to this blog series, yes, and it is a truth that encompasses the importance of perspective when viewing art, viewing life.

By filling in the blank, undiscovered places on my personal map of the world—in this case, elementary schools in rural Maine—I’ve (hopefully) picked up a tiny hammer and chipped away at the solipsism that manages to sneak into my reflections. Art and life coexist everywhere, especially rural Maine, and projects like Percent for Art help us see that a little more clearly. 

This is my final public arts blog post and in a couple days I'll be back at Bowdoin College for my senior year. Living in Maine this summer has been a really valuable experience, and the Arts Commission has taught me so much about how the arts build community and encourage creativity. I'd like to think that's something that I've always known, but being able to see the inner workings of the agency increased my appreciation for all the positive work that the arts do in the state of Maine. 

I hope this blog has inspired someone to go out and see all the great works Percent for Art has commissioned in Maine. If not, I have a feeling it might sneak up on you in some way or another. Art has a funny way of doing that, and I certainly hope it does. 

Previous blog posts 

The Future! 

Art Is Everywhere - Penobscot County


Maine Arts Blog

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Alexandra Moreno

193 State Street
Augusta  ME  04333