Sphere of influences
Rockland — City officials, local artists and construction workers, friends, neighbors and passersby gathered Aug. 29 at high noon for the unveiling of a piece of public art that is part of the revitalized effort to establish a Harbor Trail, as well as a testament to the city’s past, present and future.
Jay Sawyer’s “Ridin’ the Rails to Rockland” has been installed just feet from the Sandy Beach terminus of the railroad tracks, a fitting location for a work that combines railway stakes and ties.
“This is the cat’s pajamas!” said Sawyer, gesturing to the end of the train tracks during his remarks to the crowd.
Sawyer had originally created the sphere in response to a 2008 Maine Arts Commission grant call for public art. He had been collecting the spikes for years, evidence, he said, that he shared with his late artist friend and mentor David McLaughlin an “acquisition disorder.” When he found he needed more spikes to finish the welded sphere, he approached Gordon Page, then vice president of Maine Eastern Railroad; Page contacted headquarters and Sawyer got what he needed. The MAC grant ended up going to another artist, but Sawyer knew the sculpture had a future.
“I wasn’t going to let go of this one,” he said.
A move to install the work at the Rockland train station was derailed a few years ago, but the time was right earlier this summer when Sawyer offered the sculpture in conjunction with the renewed focus on the Harbor Trail, something that has been in the works in some way for some 20 years. It all came together quickly, so much so that Sawyer was working on the South End installation the morning of the unveiling. The lengths of track used for the base came from a section of abandoned track in Rockland; markings on the rail indicate it dates to 1914. Dragon Products contributed crushed limestone for the base and funds for a plaque.
On Aug. 29, Ad Hoc Harbor Trail Committee Chairwoman Louise MacLellan-Ruf said the installation is indicative of the current “foot-by-foot” approach to the trail, which aims to connect the city’s various neighborhoods with its historic downtown and working waterfront. Mayor Will Clayton cited Rockland’s history of a united blue- and white-collar working class and how it is blending in the present with the art community. He said the Rockland-born Sawyer, who graduated from Maine Maritime Academy and sailed as a Merchant Marine before starting his own welding business and transitioning it into Warren’s Stemwinder Sculpture Works & Gardens, epitomizes the work/art combo.
“He’s a man who gets his hands dirty,” he said, crediting “Ridin’ the Rails” as a springboard for the upcoming Ferry Terminal Park, which will have three sites for public art.
Sawyer provoked laughter when he said his sphere is the kind of work that can help those unaccustomed to the art world give it a try.
“It can break them in easy,” he said of the sturdy, invitingly touchable work.
After sharing memories of working on the railroad line and harbor barges as a welder and predicting “big, big, big things coming to Rockland,” Sawyer thanked a number of people who have encouraged his growth as an artist. Then he, MacLellan-Ruf and one of those encouragers, respected paper artist Marylin Quint-Rose, pulled off the orange hazard tape and white sheets that had been wrapped tightly around the sculpture and against the wind. The crowd clapped and then began exploring the work with their hands and cameras, something sure to continue as it settles into its waterfront home.
“It’s so much cooler than I thought it would be!”, said MacLellan-Ruf.
A&E editor for Courier Publications, LLC
(207) 594-4401/4407, ext. 115
Dagney has been providing Courier coverage of the local arts scene since 1985 and has helmed the multi-paper A&E section since it debuted in 2003. She has been a local performing artist, community and professional, for almost 30 years and spent a decade writing, producing and announcing on-air for several Midcoast radio stations. When not in the NewsNest, Dagney likes to be in motion.