SOUTH PORTLAND — Signs of the season in Maine include Bean boots, turning leaves, and campaign placards sprouting where daffodils once bloomed.
But this fall city residents may have noticed some more artistic, less conventional signs cropping up around the city.
They are the work of Jessie Kessler, wife of House District 32 candidate Christopher Kessler.
Kessler, a Democrat, is running against Republican Tammy Walter in the district that represents part of South Portland and part of Cape Elizabeth.
His wife’s five paintings depict a different scene or message: a giant portrait of the Earth near the intersection of Evans Street and Broadway; a seascape at Mill Creek Park; a row of birch trees at Hinckley Park; and two on Broadway just off the Casco Bay Bridge.
Chris Kessler said the largest of the paintings are about 24 square feet. As mandated by the state, signs in the public right-of-way cannot exceed 32 square feet.
Some of the paintings are accompanied by, or standing next to, a green Kessler sign and a separate portrait portraying Chris smiling while tossing one of his two daughters, Lyla, in the air.
The two smaller installations are the work of City Councilor Eben Rose, who supports Kessler’s candidacy and whose “vision” was to compile a “collage-type” sign.
“I have to give (Eben) a lot of credit because … it was his idea for me to make these large panels of work,” Jessie Kessler said.
“I feel like the signs were really impactful for Chris’ primary campaign,” she said. “On Election Day … when people heard who I was standing at the polls supporting, they would immediately talk about the signs. They were hungry for a new way to communicate during the campaign season.”
Chris Kessler said generally speaking, he doesn’t like campaign signs. Seeing plastic campaign signs start lining the streets en masse 12 weeks before elections, he said, is “maddening.”
“These serve a purpose of communicating directly with people driving or walking by,” Chris said. “… I didn’t want to pollute people’s vision with the plain- Jane signs.”
Jessie Kessler, who has been a painter, writer and poet, said the idea behind the signs was to grab people’s attention and “inspire” them to participate in the election process.
“As a nation, we’re facing some serious conflict and issues and the only way we’re going to be able to do anything about it is to vote,” she said.
She is also a member of the city’s Committee for Public Art and Historic Preservation and said she has experienced how “bureaucratic and difficult” it can be to install public art.
“This wave of signage is kind of a fun, guerrilla-artist thing I get to do,” Kessler said. “I can go around the red tape and use this moment to put large installations with important messages in the public view for a short period of time … to amplify a message.”
In terms of the meaning behind every sign, she said they’re all different.
“Be the change you want to see in the world” could happen by simply casting a vote, Kessler said.
“If people take their civic responsibility seriously, they’ll see a positive change,” she added.
But the message goes beyond voting.
Kessler said it also alludes to small changes, such as using recyclable straws, that could have a huge impact on the environment if enough people make the slightest effort.
The painting of Earth, accompanied by “Listen to your mother … Vote,” she said, is meant to be a “clear and concise” way to encourage people to “Listen to (Mother Nature) and vote accordingly.”
Along with the signs’ overt messages, Kessler said the colors she used to paint them are also meant to “tap into the subconscious of the public,” causing subliminal, “conditioned” responses.
The green used behind the birch trees, for example, is meant to be symbolic of the environmental movement.
By erecting these signs among other, more traditional, campaign signs, the Kesslers said they hoped to generate a pause in all of the “words being shouted in signage and discourse.”
“I think we need less words and more of an immediate mode of communication,” Kessler said. “People are tired of being told what to do … Everyone is shouting at the same time.”
“It’s a great opportunity to have public art and really convey a message,” Chris Kessler added. “Hopefully they’re inspiring people or making them take time to pause and think.”
House of Representatives District 32 candidate Christopher Kessler and his wife, Jessie, outside Mill Creek Park next to one of the campaign signs Jessie painted.
A sign at Hinckley Park painted by South Portland City Councilor Eben Rose shows local candidate Chris Kessler tossing his daughter in the air. The sign fronts a painting of birch trees created by Kessler’s wife, Jessie.