‘Eye-catching’ Portland sculpture draws praise, intrigue

The lush landscape of Payson Park, often full of children playing sports or on the playground, is now also home to something a little more avant-garde – three pink sculptures standing 12 to 17 feet tall.

The art piece, titled “Beneath the Forest, Beneath the Sea,” was installed in June by North Bridgeton-based artist Pamela Moulton and has garnered a mix of praise and intrigue.

“At first I said, ‘what’s happening over there?’ but then I saw the colors,” said Jake Darling, who lives on neighboring Washington Avenue. “It pops out. It’s a good look. You don’t see stuff like that all the time.”

For many park-goers, the sculpture’s bright color and unique shape is a welcome curiosity.

“It’s a nice, progressive piece – not that I understand it,” Westport resident Steve Williams said. “I like anything kind of different.”

A temporary art installation titled “Beneath the Forest, Beneath the Sea” at Payson Park. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

For some others, it may be too unusual.

“I thought they were doing some construction and they had a (pink) wrap around it to cover up whatever was underneath,” said Deborah Fultz. “I appreciate art, but I personally am more into traditional art.”

The piece was financed by TEMPOArt, a Portland-based nonprofit that aims to promote the creation of temporary art projects across Maine’s largest city.

It’s made out of derelict fishing gear, including former fishing nets. Moulton chose this because of what she sees as the fundamental connection between the lobster industry and Maine’s identity.

“The material speaks so much to our culture – to where we are living on the waterfront,” Moulton said. “It’s about cleaning our planet. I love that you can take this material and transform it.”

A temporary art installation titled “Beneath the Forest, Beneath the Sea” at Payson Park on Thursday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

For many fans of the artwork, this reuse of fishing gear is a primary reason they like it.

“I used to be a lobsterman, so that design is really cool,” said Hayden O’Donnell of Portland. “It’s a good use of materials, since you don’t just throw it in the dump.”

For other supporters, the sense of community the sculptures bring is a point of admiration.

“It’s very eye-catching, it’s great. I walk through here almost every day,” said Elizabeth Anderson, who lives nearby on Wellwood Road. “I love it. I see families and kids exploring it, particularly when there are baseball games. I would love it if we had sculptures all over the park.”

This sense of community was central to Moulton’s vision of the piece. Throughout the project, she worked with community members and listened to their ideas. As the work took shape, the name evolved from “Every Tree Tells a Story,” to its current title.

Henry Atwood, 5, of Portland checks out the temporary art installation on Thursday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“I’ve had so many people help me on the project … so many people had so many different ideas, and I just took all of those ideas into my own,” Moulton said. “When you make a title really specific, you really narrow people’s imaginations.”

The unique nature of the sculpture has led many park-goers to stop and analyze the meaning of the work. Interpretations range from the artwork being a commentary on the human condition to being representative of the impact of COVID-19 on Portland.

“Fish net is usually made out of plastic rope, it’s made out of trash and plastics. (The piece) almost looks like brain neurons or something like that, but it’s broken up,” said Nate Weare of Portland. “I feel like the artist was trying to show how trash and plastic is toxic to life.”

Moulton encourages these kind of analyzes of her work.

Detail of a temporary art installation titled “Beneath the Forest, Beneath the Sea.” Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“It’s really wonderful when the public has their own take on what (the sculpture) is,” Moulton said. “We’re all learning together.”

The installation will remain in the park for the next year. After that, Moulton and TEMPOArt can re-up with the city for another year. In this short time frame, Moulton hopes to hold several community-wide events to encourage people to connect with both the sculpture and the park itself.

“When I pitched the piece, I promised them that I would create a community gathering space for the city,” Moulton said. “Every time I go (to Payson), I see kids hugging the sculpture. It’s unbelievable that people are hugging them, there’s just so much interaction.”


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