Artist, owner, public ‘digging’ new Portland mural

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PORTLAND — A splashy mural near one of the peninsula’s most visible corners has delighted the building co-owner who commissioned it, the artist who painted it and members of the public who have observed the work in progress.

“I was doing something nice for my building and it became something nice for the city,” Michael Salisbury said Monday about the mural portraying clammers, painted on the side of 223 Congress St. by artist Susan Bartlett Rice of South Bristol.

“It was good for me to be out of my comfort zone,” Rice said Oct. 7. “Having done it now, it is sort of hard to go back to smaller paintings because it is so fun.”

On Monday, Rice began applying varnish to the 15-by-60-foot mural facing Washington Avenue where it intersects Congress Street. It was the final touch for the project she began last month.

Getting out of her studio, where she paints the maritime scenes that drew Salisbury to her work, also brought new eyes to Rice’s work.

“This is a little like actors who say ‘live theater is where it’s at,” she said. “I really was surprised by how supportive the public was about it.”

Salisbury, who owns the building with his mother, Freddi Salisbury, declined to say how much he paid to commission Rice for the work. But because his father also paints maritime scenes, he liked the topical choice.

“There is some karma about this that feels wonderful for me. I wanted to do something nice for the side of the building,” he said.

While not a direct project of the Portland Mural Initiative, founded in 2015 to promote mural art in the city, Salisbury and Rice credited PMI co-founder Tessa Greene O’Brien with getting them connected.

There was also no need to approach the city Public Art Committee about the project, since the mural is on private property.

“The reward of public art is, you are sharing it with a wider audience and bringing it to them,” Rice said.

Rice said her inspiration was closer to the city than may be imagined.

“I always see the clammers as I drive into Portland,” Rice said. “They are very interesting figures because they put themselves into these funny poses and they are working so hard.”

Rice added personal touches by naming the largest boat in the work for Salisbury’s daughter and smaller boats for his niece and nephew, and her own daughters.

This is Rice’s first mural, and the shift from canvas to the wall of brick had its challenges. The surfaces are uneven, and she used a hydraulic lift while painting.

“You are doing such big work, so close up,” she said. ““You had to get down off the lift and go across the street to look, then come back.”

Salisbury said he enjoyed the process from the time he saw the first sketches.

“Right from the get-go, you could tell she was doing something great,” he said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Susan Bartlett Rice adds varnish to her Portland mural near the corner of Congress Street and Washington Avenue on Monday. She was commissioned by the building’s owners.

Artist Susan Bartlett Rice said her mural at 223 Congress St. in Portland was inspired by her own experience. “I always see the clammers as I drive into Portland,” the South Bristol resident said.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.