A mural is sprawled across four panels in Old Town's Peace Pole Park. Credit: Sawyer Loftus / Penobscot Times

OLD TOWN, Maine — The city of Old Town unveiled a new mural designed by kids that showcases where the city has been and where it can go.

With teacher assistance and city approval, the Leonard Middle School eighth-graders worked with Maine artist Abigail Swartz — who won an award in 2017 for her cover of The New Yorker that featured a Black Rosie the Riveter — to make a four-panel mural that tells Old Town’s history with a look to the future as imagined by the students. 

Nestled between buildings in downtown Old Town is a square patch of green known as Peace Pole Park where the mural is displayed on a section of fence.

The four panels start on the left with a depiction of the Penobscot Nation people canoeing, then a second and third panel transition into more recent history with the fourth dedicated to depicting an inclusive future, Abbie Richmond, a student who worked on the mural, said. 

“We are the future of this community and we’re going to grow up here … and we have a voice,” she said. “The mural project reflects that — we can respect and reflect on our past, but also look forward to the things and future we want.” 

At first, it seemed like the mural project was going to fall flat, with students working on other projects and a hybrid learning model of in-person and virtual learning over the last school year, Richmond said. But, while students were busy, their teachers Hogan Marquis and Todd McKinley worked with city officials to secure approval and a grant to make the project happen. 

With the resources in hand, the students worked together to make a list of words, symbols and concepts that reflect Old Town. Then they consulted with Swartz to make their ideas come to life, Richmond said. 

For the artist, the project was a unique one that was largely digital, Swartz said. For this project, she sat in on Zoom calls and used her iPad to create the final product that was printed onto the panels hanging on the fence now, she said. 

“It was nice just to hear how passionate the teachers and students are for this project, and the town — it was really neat,” Swartz said. “It’s always neat to see when public art is used in a way to sort of uplift or celebrate an area.” 

And that was the whole point — to uplift Old Town and make it a place where she and other kids want to be and grow up, Richmond said. 

“We are a community and we want to be brought together. A lot of kids in my grade expressed a commonality that a lot of us didn’t want to stay around Old Town,” she said. “It was very blah, boring — we wanted to make it so people want to stay and feel welcome.” 

Because of a tight timeline and delays due to COVID-19, there wasn’t a formal unveiling of the mural, Richmond said. But, she and a friend went to check it out after it was installed and were amazed, she said. 

“It’s a timeline of what we were and what we can become,” Richmond said. “If we’re able to make a change, that’s the change we want to make — we want to make Old Town inviting and welcoming for everyone.”

Sawyer Loftus is an investigative reporter at the Bangor Daily News. A graduate of the University of Vermont, Sawyer grew up in Vermont where he worked for Vermont Public Radio, The Burlington Free Press...