Two new publicly funded Murals by Wabanaki artists went up in 2022

  • November 23, 2022

Two new publicly funded murals by Wabanaki artists installed in 2022  

 Story by Martha Piscuskas, Program Officer at the Maine Arts Commission.  

Marissa Joly, Mi’kmaq and recent USM graduate, had never made a painting bigger than what she could fit in her car. But that didn’t stop her from jumping into the process of creating a wall-size mural last spring.  “I was taking Wabanaki Language classes at school with Bridgid Neptune and Fiona Hopper,” Marissa explained.  “They also work for the Portland Public School Department, and they asked if I’d like to do a mural.”  

The proportion of people who identify as Indigenous in Maine is higher than any of its neighboring states. According to The Wabanaki Studies Law: 21 Years After Implementation, Maine ranks twenty-first out of fifty states in the population of Indigenous people. The report, that was published this fall, is a comprehensive look at why Maine students are not learning Wabanaki culture and history, despite the 2001 law requiring it.

Some schools are taking the initiative to integrate Wabanaki history and culture into a public setting. Lyman Moore Middle School, in Portland, secured a grant for a mural with indigenous themes created by a Wabanaki artist. Marissa learned quickly, with mentorship from muralist Ryan Adams who also has two murals in the building. “It took me about 35 hours total. I had to come in at night, so it was just me and the janitors," Marissa said. Her twenty-foot mural, unveiled in June, is rich in Wabanaki imagery: the turtle represents the land and creation, the fish are the tribes, the canoe represents travel and culture. The double curve along the border unifies all the nations, Marissa said. "I wanted the whole mural to reflect balance and healing.”   

The mural has already become a placeholder for the Lyman Moore community. To commemorate Indigenous People’s Day in October, classes came to the hall to acknowledge the first people on the land and learn more about Wabanaki life past and present.   

In November, another Wabanaki-themed mural went up on the exterior of a community center. Four Directions Development Corporation, a nonprofit whose mission is to improve the social and economic conditions of the Native American tribes in Maine, along with the Wesserunsett Arts Council and the Maine Humanities Council, commissioned two Passamaquoddy artists, Kristine Gordon Moore and Ellen Nicholas from Sipayik, to create a mural related to the history of the area.“I figured that our people’s history was totally related to the area,” said Kristine. Cousins who like to make art together, they each created a triptych for the exterior depicting clan animals and ancestors in natural settings. This was also their first large scale project, but Kristine added, “I’d love to do more mural work. It suits me.” 

Let’s expect and encourage more contemporary Wabanaki art popping up around the state. 

Photos Courtesy of John Harlow, Kristine Gordon Moore and Marissa Joly. 


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Martha Piscuskas

193 State Street
SHS 25
Augusta  ME  04333