Hard Telling Not Knowing each week tries to answer your burning questions about why things are the way they are in Maine — specifically about Maine culture and history, both long ago and recent, large and small, important and silly. Send your questions to email@example.com.
This question came to us several weeks ago, when I was following some cruise ship passengers around downtown Bangor after they disembarked from the American Cruise Lines vessel that stops at the Bangor Waterfront on Mondays this summer. We passed by one of the sculptures along the river and one fellow asked me what exactly he was looking at.
What are all those granite sculptures scattered in towns across eastern Maine?
Some are figurative, showing human and animal forms and faces and architectural elements. Some are purely abstract, with shapes, curves and lines evoking wind, waves and trees. All are carved from Maine granite, in shades ranging from deep slate to sparkling pale gray.
And all were created as part of the Schoodic Sculpture Symposium, which over the course of seven years brought 34 sculptors from all over the country and the world to Maine to create works of public art out of granite, for five summers in 2007, 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2014.
The sculptures were placed in communities throughout Washington, Hancock and Penobscot counties, from tiny towns like Harrington and Roque Bluff to highly trafficked locations in Bangor, Bar Harbor and on the University of Maine campus.
Symposium founder Jesse Salisbury modeled the multi-year project after similar ones in Europe, and hoped to not only create a network of world-class public art throughout eastern Maine, but also celebrate Maine’s long history of granite harvesting and stone carving. For more than 150 years, granite was harvested in quarries throughout Maine to be used for some of the grandest structures in the country — from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Washington Monument.
But while that granite was shipped off to the great cities of America, little of it was actually used in Maine.
“We have this great history of carving stone in Maine, but nothing was really left for the towns where all this stone came from,” Salisbury said in 2014. “So the idea was to bring artists from around the country and around the world to use the local materials and create a history of art that hasn’t been created before.”
Communities that wished to have a sculpture raised money to sponsor the creation and installation of the work. Artists from all over Maine and the U.S. and from countries including Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Republic of Georgia and Canada all converged on Maine a total of five times, each spending weeks creating their sculptures before they were finally placed in the communities that sponsored them.
Two of Bangor’s three sculptures, located on the waterfront and at Husson University, have a distinctly international flair, made by artists from Japan and South Korea — though the one at Northern Light Acadia Hospital was made by Woolwich resident Andreas Von Huene.
Plenty of other Mainers participated as well. Penobscot Nation artist Tim Shay’s sculpture “Man and his Dog Walking Into the Forest” sits outside Nutting Hall on the University of Maine campus. In Winter Harbor, Round Pond-based artist Don Meserve’s sculpture resembles a cleat used to tie up boats, and it sits in the harbor, where it slowly gets nearly entirely covered and revealed, again and again, by the rise and fall of the tides.
All 34 sculptures can be seen by taking a look at the Maine Sculpture Trail map, which sends visitors on a trip all around eastern Maine, starting (or ending) in Calais and winding its way along Route 1, throughout MDI and the Blue Hill Peninsula, and up the Penobscot River to Old Town. In addition to getting a chance to see a huge array of contemporary art, it’s also a pretty good basis for a nice Maine road trip.