A sculptor from Down East will spend his winter splitting, shaping and sanding massive boulders of granite and basalt at his workshop in Steuben and install them in late spring at Fish Point along Portland’s Eastern Promenade in a temporary art exhibition.
Jesse Salisbury, the principal organizer of the Schoodic International Sculpture Symposium and the Maine Sculpture Trail, will create a dozen or more pieces from a half-dozen boulders and arrange them in a grassy area below Fort Allen Park near Portland’s waterfront recreation trail. In addition to being popular with bikers, runners and walkers, the area also is a popular spot for photos for wedding parties.
Salisbury will shape and arrange the individual pieces to encourage people to interact with them. “There will be a lot of gentle, undulating curves, so people can sit on them, lounge on them or step from stone to stone,” he said.
The project, “Oekologie: Resilience in Place,” is the latest effort of the privately funded nonprofit arts group TempoArt, which places temporary art installations across the city. It will be the first project under the direction of the group’s newly hired executive director, Tony Adams, who recently moved to Maine from Chicago.
TempoArt has been operating since 2016, concentrating on one project annually. With a full-time executive director, it will have an annual operating budget of $150,000. The group’s board of directors declined to disclose Adams’ salary. The budget for Salisbury’s project is $25,000, said TempoArt board member and founder Alice Spencer.
The hiring of an executive director and the commissioning of a high-profile Maine artist for this project signal a growth spurt for the young organization, Spencer said. “It became clear that a small volunteer board could no longer sustain the work involved in large-scale projects and that we needed full-time staff. With Tony on board as executive director, we expect the program will grow in scope and impact,” she said.
The board has raised enough money to pay Adams’ salary for a year, said Richard Spencer, the board chairman. “When we made a decision to move from an all-volunteer board to a staffed organization and reached out to supporters, they responded enthusiastically,” he said. “People are excited about the potential for Tempo, to get it to a different level.”
Last summer, TempoArt commissioned Portland artist Daniel Minter to create a series of totemic human figures during a community art-making day, and those figures stood as a backdrop for community dinners throughout the summer. The exhibition, “Welcome Feast,” used the art of culinary diplomacy to explore cooperation, understanding and peace across cultures. TempoArt has installed other pieces along the Franklin Arterial and at Lincoln Park. A planned piece for Back Cove in 2018, called “Shifting Tides,” was scrubbed because it became too expensive.
Adams and his wife, Jenn, founded Halcyon Theatre in Chicago 15 years ago. Jenn Adams is from southern Maine, and Adams said they and their kids, who are 13 and 11, have wanted to move to Maine for many years. “When we were here last summer, the kids didn’t want to leave and go back,” he said.
Professionally, Adams, 42, was drawn by the idea of connecting cultures through the arts. In an interview in Portland, he said he has tried doing that in his work in theater and dance over his 2o-year career.
“There is a lot of overlap with the work I had been doing in Chicago, using art to connect people, to build bridges between communities and create work that has a ripple effect beyond the work itself,” Adams said. “This will be a different mode for me. I have been working to foster connections through theater and dance, but I looked at what (TempoArt is) doing to connect immigrant communities, and it spoke to me.”
Adams has other ties to Maine. His theater company partnered with Shoshona Currier, director of the Bates Dance Festival in Lewiston, when Currier worked as an arts programmer for the city of Chicago. Their kids are friends, he said, and Currier alerted him to the opportunity at TempoArt.
As its first executive director, Adams’ primary task is moving the organization from one run by a volunteer board to one with a full-time director. He will help raise funds for the organization’s operating budget and work with Salisbury, city planners and others who use the Eastern Promenade, including the Narrow Gauge Railroad, to ensure the installation of the sculpture goes smoothly and as planned. The precise location of the installation and how the individual pieces of stone will be arranged are still to be determined, Adams said.
The location has hosted sculpture in the past. Sculptor Sandy McLeod sited several large pieces along the promenade trail several years ago. While Salisbury’s project will be privately funded and installed on a temporary basis, it still must go through the city’s permitting process. Installation should happen in late June, and the piece will remain in place most of the year.
Salisbury is among Maine’s best-known sculptors. He grew up in Maine, trained in Japan and works in grand scale, turning blocks of granite and other stone that he harvests from quarries near his home into graceful forms that reflect both the dramatic nature of the Maine environment as well as his place within it. He has several permanent pieces at the Portland International Jetport, and in June 2018 he installed “Tessalation 3D” at Falmouth High School.
His biggest accomplishment was envisioning and running the Schoodic International Sculpture Symposium, which brought sculptors from around the world to Maine to create large-scale pieces from Maine stone. Those pieces make up the Maine Sculpture Trail, with 34 pieces across the region.
He’s glad for the chance to place sculpture in a more public setting in Portland, where more people will be able to interact with it.
Salisbury began collecting boulders for the project in December. He’s picked seven so far, including a massive boulder of dark black basalt that he thinks might weigh as much as 14,000 pounds. He’s also picked some gabbro and several varieties of granite with colors that range from dark gray to pink. “There’s one with nice red stripes,” Salisbury said. “There’s some nice variety. From a distance, they don’t look that different, but when you crawl into them, you’ll see a lot of internal colors.”
Salisbury will work at a fast pace throughout the winter to meet the June deadline. He’s planning to hire students from Maine College of Art to help with surface texturing and installation. “It’s going to be a busy winter. This is a quick turnaround,” he said. “But it’s a great opportunity.”