April 01, 2020

Mural Victory A group of protesters and artists beautifies public space with a ‘piece of living, breathing art’

It’s public art in every sense, but the public will have to do a little sleuthing to view a delightful new mural inspired by children and painted by a cadre of spirited eastern Maine artists. Fortunately, an open house and dedication will transform the search into a pleasant afternoon’s adventure.

As a consequence of being arrested last December – for refusing to leave the Bangor offices of U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe where they were protesting the war in Iraq – artists Rob Shetterly, Patricia Wheeler, Maureen Block and Doug Rawlings were assigned a briar-patch sentence of performing community service. After surveying the many worthy social service projects and organizations in the Bangor area, the artists lit upon the idea of using their unique talents to create a public mural – a piece that not only would illuminate some unlovely corner of the city, but also would deliver a message in keeping with the artists’ own sensibilities.

The result can be appreciated this Saturday afternoon, Oct. 14, at the Park Woods Learning Center in Bangor. Park Woods, a city-owned section of the former military housing beyond the airport, is now occupied by families transitioning from homelessness and working toward independence. Residents have access to education, job training, transportation, child care, parenting support, mental health and substance abuse services and other resources. Families accepted into the program may stay at Park Woods for only two years and are expected to make good use of the opportunity to get their lives on track.

Park Woods director Claire Bolduc, who runs the program on a shoestring and advocates fiercely for her residents, seized the opportunity to give the community’s children a chance to work with accomplished artists to create a piece of “living, breathing, right-in-your-face art.”

“Where else are they going to get that opportunity?” she asked.

Muralist Pat Wheeler said working with a multi-age group of Park Woods kids in an initial brainstorming drawing session was exhilarating. The theme was “the connectedness of living things.”

“There was a lot of energy in the room,” Wheeler recalled, showing off the sheaf of childish images produced that day. “We left with our heads spinning.” The artists promised to use the children’s drawings in the finished piece.

After reflecting on the youngsters’ work, which included several wolf images, Wheeler recalled a traditional Cherokee legend. In the story, a grandmother teaches a group of children a lesson about life’s choices. “A fight is going on inside me,” she says. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves.” One of the wolves represents kindness, compassion and truth; the other represents greed, deceit and arrogance. Which wolf will win? “The one I feed,” the grandmother tells the children.

Wheeler said the story seemed to fit with the notion of connection and the images the children drew that day, and the mural began to take shape. One spring day, the four artists returned to the learning center, bearing paints and brushes, tape, ladders, rags and other tools of the trade – along with the children’s original artwork. They finished the piece the same day.

The mural begins in the learning center’s downstairs hall, where a big, affable wolf sails in her little boat upon a sparkling sea. A raven and an owl accompany her voyage. The wall behind them is painted a glorious sunflower gold. Around the corner, another wolf – leaner, less content and just a bit unsettling- draws the viewer up the narrow stairwell and past a collection of painted natural wonders: trees and tulips, dolphins, grasshoppers and fish. A fat green frog seems ready to spring off the wall onto the carpet, and a sleepy turtle basks in the sun. Mischievous imps, scratched into the paint, tumble along the incline. Simple blocks of print recount the Cherokee fable.

At the top of the stairs, an angel lights up the hallway – not some fluffy, frothy, ethereal-looking angel, either, but a sturdy, brown-skinned, hands-on kind of angel. She looks like she knows how to get things done.

The children love their mural, Bolduc said at a recent private showing.

“They look for their drawings and they explain the legend to people who walk in the door,” she said. “Everyone who’s seen it has just been slayed.” And if the piece reflects a subtle irony, painted by nonviolent anti-war demonstrators in former military housing given over to the service of indigent families, Bolduc’s not complaining.

“Needless to say, the City of Bangor does not support criminal activities,” she noted with a smile. But there’s another blank wall upstairs that could use some attention, and, she said hopefully, “[The artists] could get arrested again.”

The mural, titled “The War Inside Me,” will be dedicated to the children and families of Park Woods at the Open House on Saturday, Oct. 14, between 4 and 6 p.m. on Bolling Drive, just off Griffin Road in Bangor. Some of the artists will be present and refreshments will be served. For more information or directions, phone the Park Woods office at 990-1678.

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