A mail carrier walks past the Coastal Interiors building on Water Street in downtown Ellsworth on Wednesday, June 8, 2022. A painted message on the side of the building indicates where Tremont artist Judy Taylor plans to paint a large, community-commissioned mural in September. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

ELLSWORTH, Maine — This city’s downtown, which has become more vibrant in recent years as its population has grown, is going to get even more colorful by the end of the summer.

Judy Taylor, a professional artist who lives in Tremont on Mount Desert Island, has been commissioned by a local community organization to paint a mural on a wall roughly 60 feet long and 30 feet high on the south side of Coastal Interiors on Water Street. The painting will depict people engaged in distinctly Maine activities and will be completed in September, she said.

“This one is going to be bright and light and uplifting,” Taylor said. “It will take up the entire wall. I’m really interested in the project because it is local.”

The Ellsworth mural, when it is done, may be the most visible sign of downtown Ellsworth’s revival, which has been spurred in recent years by a significant influx of new residents and by a wave of new locally owned restaurants and shops opening along Main Street. The city recently has sought to make downtown even more welcoming by creating a seasonal parklet and outdoor dining area on a block of Franklin Street in front of City Hall, and by painting a crosswalk by the parklet in rainbow colors to celebrate the LGBTQ community.

Taylor is well known in Maine primarily because of the 11-panel mural that she painted for the Maine Department of Labor. The Maine Labor Mural was on display at the agency’s headquarters in Augusta from 2008 until 2011, when then-Gov. Paul LePage had it removed because of complaints that it wasn’t consistent with his pro-business goals.

The mural depicts scenes from Maine’s labor history, including women shipbuilders during World War II, the 1986 International Paper strike in Jay and child laborers. Frances Perkins, a part-time Mainer who served as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s labor secretary, also appears in the painting.

The removal of the labor mural sparked a partisan controversy that generated news headlines for more than a year.

Taylor said she has not settled on a final design for the mural yet, and doesn’t want to give away too much ahead of time about what it will look like. Heart of Ellsworth, the community group that is spearheading the project, will help solicit feedback from the public about what sort of activities should be included in the design, she said.

Artist Judy Taylor speaks about the mural she created representing Maine’s labor history, at a forum at the Portland Art Museum, Friday, April 8, 2011, in Portland, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

The southern facing wall is in a highly visible location on Water Street, overlooking the Union River and near the lower traffic signal on Main Street where vehicles line up during rush hour. Two large parking lots sit in front of the wall on the west side of Water Street, one for Coastal Interiors and another of R.F. Jordan & Sons, giving motorists and pedestrians headed north on Water Street an unobstructed view of where the mural will be.

Taylor said she plans to keep the current brick color as a background for the mural, in homage to the “iconic” dominant brick architecture in the city’s downtown. She also plans to incorporate art deco design elements to reflect the architectural styles of other downtown buildings such as The Grand Auditorium, the Emmaus Homeless Shelter, the Austin building and the Luchini building.

She will assemble a team to help her paint the final design once it has been selected, she said. The actual work of painting the building will take two weeks, she predicted, if the weather cooperates and no surprises come up.

Heart of Ellsworth has received money for the mural project from Maine Community Foundation and the Maine Arts Commission, but continues to raise funds to help carry the project through. Coastal Interiors, owned by Lori Chase, is donating the use of the large exterior wall for the project.

“I think it is super cool,” Chase said Wednesday. “I think Judy is going to do a great job.”

At 7 p.m. on June 25, Heart of Ellsworth plans to hold a party and art show in the Coastal Interiors parking lot to help draw attention to the mural project. An original video featuring visual and audio work by multiple Maine artists will be projected on the mural wall during the event, which is free and open to the public.

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....