WINTERPORT, Maine — A well-known Maine street artist is helping middle schoolers plaster the walls of their schools with work that aims to show their classmates they all are part of a community.
It’s part of a push to promote inclusivity and acceptance in schools under the Maine Civil Rights Team Project, organized by the Maine attorney general’s office. Student civil rights groups in schools across the state applied to take part, and eight were picked.
On Friday, Orson Horchler, a Portland-based street artist who works under the name Pigeon, visited the last of these eight schools, Winterport’s Wagner Middle School. Other schools Horchler has visited are in Biddeford, Buckfield, Cumberland, Gardiner, Holden, Portland and Westbrook.
Students in the Winterport school’s civil rights team sat down with classmates they didn’t know well and drew their portrait while chatting and trying to get to know them. Afterward, they affixed the portraits to an exterior wall with Horchler’s help.
“We want them to break through whatever stereotypes they might have and just look to get to know the real person,” Michelle Campbell, a seventh-grade English language arts teacher at the school, said.
Mallory Parks, a seventh-grader, drew a picture of a classmate she didn’t know beforehand but learned he was an avid fisherman and that they both enjoyed hunting with their dads.
“I think it really helps show us all that we matter,” Parks said of the project.
Horchler was born in France but moved to Maine when he turned 18 because his father was living in Ellsworth at the time. He eventually settled into life in Bangor but said he felt lonely, isolated and at times unwelcome as an outsider with an accent coming into Maine.
About six years ago, he started posting his art around Bangor’s city streets, often in the form of small paper pigeons posted on buildings and other pieces in the Kenduskeag Stream canal or on the boarded up windows of abandoned buildings. Later, groups started recruiting him to do work on the sides of their buildings for events. He began building a reputation and base of friends through that work.
Horchler has since relocated to Portland, where much of his work has focused on belonging and acceptance. His best known recent work, “Mainer,” featured portraits of residents who don’t resemble the traditional Mainer one might picture. Horchler said the project aims to challenge the perception that people “from away” can’t be Mainers or aren’t a true part of their communities.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.