A Dog of a StatuePolitics and art don't mix in Portland.
Who knew a statue could create so much controversy? In case you missed all the ruckus, a few months back the city of Portland found itself in the national spotlight over a bronze sculpture that Daniel Burke, owner of the Portland Sea Dogs, wanted to donate to the city for display outside Hadlock Field. Problem was, Burke was unaware of the city's guidelines for accepting such gifts, which among other restrictions require review by the Public Art Committee before a work is commissioned.
With the sculpture of a family of four headed to a ball game already 97 percent complete, city officials were in a difficult position: reject the sculpture and appear ungrateful, or accept it and look as though the guidelines aren't worth the paper they're printed on.
In the end, the city somehow managed to do both. First there was the heated public debate that touched on topics ranging from commercialism (the figures in the sculpture are wearing Sea Dogs logo items, in violation of city standards) to diversity (one member of the committee mused that perhaps the city already had enough "white folks on pedestals"). Then the art committee's 6-1 vote to reject the gift was promptly ignored by the city council, which voted unanimously to approve it.
While Ed Douglas, a Portland painter who recently retired from the faculty at Maine College of Art, is troubled by the message that decision sends about the role of the public art committee, he says at least some of the uproar was unavoidable. "Any art in the public domain is controversial by its very nature. There are so many opinions, and it's an area where there are no hard facts."
But Tom Crotty, the landscape painter who moved his Frost Gully Gallery to Freeport in 2000 after twenty-seven years in Portland, remains convinced that objective standards do exist — and that the sculpture, by New York artist Rhoda Sherbell, doesn't meet them. The committee "seriously failed to accept the responsibility it had to simply and in strong terms accurately characterize that piece of work," he says. "It's a very weak, very amateurish piece of sculpture."
With the piece slated for installation late this spring, something tells us we haven't heard the end of this discussion.Sticker ShockThere might actually be a good reason for Maine motorists' annual headache.
A visit to friends in Florida a few months back included an interesting observation — cars in the Sunshine State lack those little inspection stickers in the lower left corner of their windshields. It turns out that Florida does not require annual motor vehicle inspections for private cars. Having just spent more than $200 in repairs to get our own jalopy sticker-worthy, this piqued our interest.
Maine, we discovered, is one of just nineteen states that require regular inspections. "The approach varies from state to state," explains Lieutenant Christopher Grotton, the commanding officer for the Maine State Police traffic safety unit. New Jersey, for example, recently shifted to a two-year inspection schedule. Of course, New Jersey has only 2,700 inspection stations for more than 6.5 million vehicles, so a two-year schedule might be more a matter of necessity than science. Maine, by contrast, has about 3,000 licensed inspection stations for about 1.4 million cars and trucks, and even with those odds every Mainer knows that getting a last-minute appointment at an inspection station on the final day of the grace period is next to impossible.
Maine apparently got ahead of the inspection curve early on. Grotton says the state has had inspections for at least sixty-five years.
Grotton isn't certain why those thirty-one other states don't require them, because the statistics seem to show that inspections save lives and money in avoided crashes. When Texas instituted an inspection program several years ago, the percentage of crashes attributed to mechanical failure dropped from 12 percent to 4 percent. The rate in Maine is about 3 percent, Grotton says. "Idaho repealed its inspection law and saw a significant increase in mechanical defect accidents," he adds. In fact, according to federal statistics, states with inspection programs have crash rates 17 percent lower than states without them.
Makes that $200 look like money well spent.Crispy CrittersSo that's why the power keeps going out.
It's almost as sure a sign of early summer in Maine as lupine, blackflies, and bored teenagers: fried squirrels. Every year the state's fleet-footed gray squirrels attempt to serve as the conductor between highly charged overhead power lines and the ground, and every year they're rewarded for their noble attempt by a quick jolt and a final splat on the pavement. This tragic drama is made worse by the fact that it also causes homes and businesses to be suddenly plunged into darkness.
According to Central Maine Power Company, squirrels are the third most-common cause of outages, just behind tree branches and car vs. pole incidents. In the past five years, they've accounted for nearly a fifth of all outages, according to CMP's John Carroll. He jokes that he's had trouble getting funding for tiny print signs warning the rodents of the danger posed by the electric company's 206,000 transformers. So CMP is instead experimenting with devices to discourage squirrels from attempting to scale power poles and transformers. Critter Guards are cone-shaped devices that cover the top of the transformers, making it more difficult for squirrels to bridge the gap between them and the power line. Carroll explains that CMP monitors which circuits have a particularly high incidence of squirrel fatalities. They then place the devices in those spots. But he adds that with 20,000 miles of power lines in Maine, "there is a lot of opportunity for mischief if you're a squirrel." All new transformers are already equipped with such anti-animal protection.
Believe it or not, such warm-hearted efforts may actually be saving four-legged lives. Last year CMP recorded 1,072 animal-caused outages, a marked decrease since just five years ago, when the electric company responded to 1,831 animal incidents. But Carroll refuses to take the credit for the drop, at least not yet. "We can't claim any causality just yet," he says. "There may just be more hawks around."Armchair ReportingA nose for news isn't necessarily required.
If you're ever looking for a window into the minds — and the workloads — of the state's daily newspaper reporters, you might want to keep an eye on the papers' Web sites, where reporters occasionally post calls for sources for upcoming stories. For several weeks, for example, bangor news.com
, the Web site of the Bangor Daily News, prominently featured a note requesting that readers who'd had cosmetic surgery, Botox, or other plastic surgery procedures contact Kristen Andresen, a feature writer and columnist.
Why not use old-fashioned shoe leather reporting to find her sources? "Plastic surgery is something people are a little hesitant to talk about," Andresen says. "You can't really go up to people on the street and ask them if they've had work done."
An hour after the query was posted online, Andresen had three reader responses in her inbox. Within a few days, she'd gotten seventeen replies. The response spurred Andresen to break the single story she had planned into two parts, one dealing with cosmetic surgery and the other with noninvasive procedures.
Over at pressherald.mainetoday.com
, the Web site of the Portland Press Herald, the query topics are more numerous — recently, reporters were looking for people who rely on free wireless Internet connections, baby boomers turning sixty, and adults who wear braces. Feature reporter Ray Routhier says the ability to post queries means there are a lot more "real people" — as opposed to business and government officials — in the paper these days, and that the mix of stories he writes is more varied. "Before we had them, you wouldn't just take an idea out of your head and try to make it into a story; you just wouldn't have the time or know-how to find people," he says, citing as an example a recent query he posted about whether Mainers comply with their dearly departed relations' instructions for the disposition of their ashes. "It's a lot more fun," he says, "to get an idea and float it out on the Internet and see what people are really doing."
As for the ashes, Routhier still can't say for sure. While he got ten or twelve responses to that query, most of his correspondents declined to have their names published, and the story was never written. Seems that Yankee reticence is still around after all.Arnie's TractorGolfdom's greatest gets a Maine ride down memory lane.
For Don Clough, the dozens of vintage Fordson tractors he has restored and tucked away around his West Gardiner home are personal mementoes of his youth growing up on a farm in the 1930s and 1940s. Despite his reputation as one of the leading tractor rehabilitators in the country, he never works for other people and never sells his vehicles.
Well, almost never. Last year Clough got a request he couldn't refuse. The World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Florida, at the request of Timothy Finchem, the commissioner of the Professional Golfers' Association tour, asked Clough if he could find and restore a 1922 Fordson tractor for golf legend Arnold Palmer. As a teenager, Palmer had driven a specially designed steel-wheeled model around the golf course at the Latrobe (Pennsylvania) Country Club, where his father was the course superintendent and head golf pro. The Hall of Fame wanted the machine in time for Palmer's birthday on September 10.
As it turned out, Clough had a rusted 1922 hulk in his field, but by the time he took on the project he had only two months to turn it into an operating tractor. Luckily, he was the right man for the job. A Korean War veteran whose love of machines led him to own and fly one of the first helicopters in central Maine, Clough has been restoring old Fordsons and Caterpillar tractors for more than ten years. His collection includes a Fordson from every year the tractor was built between 1918 and 1933 in factories in the United States, Ireland, and England. "I imagine it's the best collection in the country," Clough acknowledges. "I'd have known by now if anyone had a better one."
Clough beat the deadline by ten days. Palmer found the tractor sitting on the first tee of the Latrobe golf course after a birthday dinner hosted by Finchem. Palmer walked straight to it, got into the seat, started it up, and drove away.
"I got a letter from him afterwards, telling me how much he appreciated the time and effort that went into the job," Clough recalls. "He said he about cried when he saw it, and I believe him. These old machines do that to a person."What's in a Name?When it's a bridge, a great deal.
Naming bridges used to be a quiet little affair, a cozy sort of event where local notables would choose a name to honor a favorite son or some obvious geological feature or even popular mythology — the late lamented Million-Dollar Bridge across Portland Harbor comes to mind. Not that it mattered much to the traveling public, which often promptly renamed a bridge to reflect more practical matters, such as the Wiscasset Bridge rather than the Donald Davies Bridge.
Those days are past, as the legislature's Transportation Committee discovered twice this year when debate about naming new bridges in Prospect and Augusta erupted in widespread criticism and arguments. "There's a lot of diversity of thought out there," dryly observes Representative Boyd Marley, the Portland Democrat who cochairs the Transportation Committee.
"I hope it's not some new trend," adds Bar Harbor Democrat Dennis Damon, Marley's Senate counterpart on the committee. "It seems curious to me that we should have all this controversy."
The ease of e-mail was a major reason the campaign to name the new bridge between Prospect and Verona Island attracted hundreds of suggestions and contributed to the choice of the thoroughly neutral (legislators thought) Downeast Gateway Bridge. And the streaming audio broadcasts of Transportation Committee hearings on the Internet brought out several critics who challenged a bill to name the new span across the Kennebec in Augusta the Cushnoc Crossing Bridge.
"They were both high-profile structures, and they attracted a lot of attention," Marley notes. "These days, the process [of naming a bridge] is much more open. E-mail and Internet access has changed things a lot. We would hold a hearing in the afternoon, and I'd have people from distant parts of the state who had heard it on their computer calling me with comments that evening. It used to be that committee meetings were pretty obscure for folks outside the statehouse, but the Internet has really opened up the process."
"It was much ado about not much," Damon says. "Everyone seemed to want to stick an oar in, but no one was pulling in the same direction."
By the time the dust settled and the last e-mail was answered, the obviously misspelled Downeast Gateway Bridge — see the cover of this magazine for the correct spelling — had thankfully been washed away in favor of the Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Observatory, reflecting both the site and the observation deck that tops one of the span's soaring towers. Cushnoc survived its challenge from history buffs who felt that eighteenth-century midwife Martha Ballard deserved the honor.
Not that either will likely survive the public's more practical sentiments. "People are still going to call one the Bucksport Bridge and the other the Third Bridge, just like they do now," Marley points out.
Mainers have that habit.Rolling RoadshowA midcoast auctioneer goes RVing this month.
Kaja Veilleux, the auctioneer who's been hosting free appraisal days for nearly thirty years at his Thomaston office, is taking his show on the road. This spring a crew of carpenters gutted and tricked out a thirty-six-foot motor home with the black lights, diamond testers, and high-tech scales necessary to assess Maine valuables, and now Veilleux is offering to bring the recreational vehicle to anyone who wants it — for free. Either Veilleux or one of his appraisers will be on hand to evaluate the worth of whatever people bring to the rolling antiques roadshow, at which point people can decide for themselves whether or not to put the items up for auction. "It's always been Kaja's philosophy to give people information, and what they do with that information is up to them," explains John Bottero, vice president of Veilleux's Thomaston Place Auction Galleries and an auctioneer/appraiser himself. "This is purely speculative for us."
Bottero says the motor home will be reserved mostly by historical societies, schools, and other nonprofits who will use its appearance as a fund-raiser. It should be on the road by Memorial Day and is already scheduled to be at the Friendship Museum in Friendship on June 24. Several other midcoast communities have also requested a visit, Bottero says, adding that no item is too large, small, or insignificant for him to appraise. "It's crazy what people will bring in — some will actually bring in hugely valuable jewelry in the palm of their hand," he says. "But we make it a point not to over-inflate our estimates in order to get people's business. We had a piece last weekend that we estimated at forty-thousand dollars, and it actually brought in a hundred and forty thousand."
Better check the attic.