Vintage building in solon houses floor-to-ceiling frescoes for all to enjoy

Story & Photos by Jodi Hersey

Not everyone is proud of their past, but that cannot be said for the South Solon Meeting House. From the outside, this 1842 white-sided building, nestled among open fields and rural back roads in Somerset County, resembles that of an old-fashioned church. However, it is the floor-to-ceiling frescoes bursting with all sorts of colors inside the structure on the South Solon Road that truly make this place divine.

“If you want to see something totally unique in an unexpected place, this is it for sure,” said professional photographer David Franzen. “I can’t imagine what it took to do it and the inspiration to do it. It’s beyond comprehension.”

Franzen’s uncle was just one of the artists from the nearby Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture that helped create the frescoes in the South Solon Meeting House back in the 1950s. Fresco is a technique of mural painting done on fresh plaster that was developed in Italy. Those who use this technique must apply a fresh plaster mixture on the wall and then paint on that mixture while it is still wet. 

“I can see my uncle’s artwork here and the rest of his artistic friends,” Franzen said during a recent visit. “My two aunts and mom were all married in this building, so it’s definitely part of the family fabric.”

The South Solon Meeting House, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was originally created as a place for religious and community activities to take place. Church services have not been held in the building for decades, but the structure itself has most recently been used for weddings, concerts, and poetry readings, according to Andrew Davis, a member of the South Solon Meeting House board of directors.

“I will come in here sometimes, and there will just be a guy up on the podium playing guitar and singing. It’s really nice,” Davis said. “The acoustics in here are beautiful.”

Davis, who is also the groundskeeper for the building, still gets mesmerized by the frescoes.

“I always see something different when I look at the frescoes. I noticed over in that corner, there is a hand,” Davis said as he looked around from the pew where he was sitting. “I am just amazed at the new things I see.”

Colby College art professor and fresco scholar Veronique Plesch said the South Solon Meeting House is like no other place on earth.

“It’s one of a kind,” Plesch said. “The interesting thing about these frescoes, which were done by contemporary artists, is they were given free rein about the topic they wanted to cover. It had to be religious. The secular topics are in the lobby, but within the building itself, it is all religious.”

From angels and shepherds to rolling hills and beautiful skies, all are depicted in great detail in these frescoes in Solon. It’s a heavenly sight people of all ages, walks of life, and faiths are invited to experience whenever they are in the area. 

“This is very important to the South Solon community,” Davis said. “We have a lot of return visitors who bring guests up to the meeting house, and we have individuals who have lived in Solon all their life and have never stepped foot in the building. People [just] never expect to open the door and see this artwork in the middle of nowhere.”