The “flashy” Portland sculpture draws praise and intrigue

Payson Park’s lush landscape, often teeming with children playing sports or the playground, is now also home to something more avant-garde — three pink sculptures that stand 12 to 17 feet tall.

The artwork, titled ‘Beneath the Forest, Beneath the Sea’, was installed in June by North Bridgeton-based artist Pamela Moulton and has received a mix of praise and intrigue.

“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 looks good. You don’t see that all the time.”

For many park visitors, the sculpture’s bright color and unique shape are a welcome curiosity.

“It’s a nice progressive piece – not that I get it,” said Steve Williams of Westport. “I like everything that is different.”

A temporary art installation entitled ‘Beneath the Forest, Beneath the Sea’ in Payson Park. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

For some others it may be too unusual.

“I thought they were going to build something and they had a (pink) foil around it to cover up what was underneath,” said Deborah Fultz. “I appreciate art, but personally I’m more into traditional art.”

The piece was funded by TEMPOArt, a Portland-based nonprofit dedicated to encouraging the creation of temporary art projects in Maine’s largest city.

It consists 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 live by the water,” Moulton said. “It’s about cleaning up 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 gear reuse is a key reason they like it.

“I used to be a lobster fisherman, so this design is really cool,” said Hayden O’Donnell of Portland. “It’s a good use of material because you don’t just throw it in the trash.”

For other supporters, the sense of community the sculptures inspire 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, especially when baseball games are on. I would love it if we had sculptures all over the park.”

This sense of community was central to Moulton’s vision of the play. 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 views the temporary art installation on Thursday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

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

The uniqueness of the sculpture has caused many park visitors to stop and analyze the meaning of the work. Interpretations range from commentary on the human condition to representative impact of COVID-19 on Portland.

“Fishing nets are usually made of plastic rope, it’s made of trash and plastic. (The piece) almost looks like brain neurons or something, but it’s broken,” said Nate Weare from Portland. “I feel like the artist wanted to show how toxic garbage and plastic are to life.”

Moulton encourages this type of analysis 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 audience has their own opinion of what (the sculpture) is,” Moulton said. “We all learn together.”

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

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

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