Portland, Brunswick artists to turn state Capitol dome into art

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AUGUSTA — Recycling isn’t just good for the environment anymore; the Maine Arts Commission is hoping it can make for intriguing artwork, too.

Judith Allen, a Portland mixed media artist, and James Creighton, a Brunswick-based visual artist, have been selected by the organization to create two pieces for its State Capitol Dome Copper Reuse Project. 

For the project, Creighton and Allen will use historic copper roofing from the Maine State Capitol Complex’s original dome to create artwork that will hang in the building. The roof was fitted with new copper three years ago.

Allen and Creighton were chosen by a special committee comprised of state legislators, artists and Arts Commission staff, which reviewed 29 proposals submitted by artists.

Rep. Erik Jorgensen, D-Portland, who served on the committee, said the ancient copper is a piece of Maine’s history. 

“Every Maine law for the past century was developed under these copper sheets,” Jorgensen said. “While the Statehouse is the working center for Maine’s government, it’s also a remarkable public museum. These sculptures will be an exciting contemporary addition to the state’s art collection.”

Creighton said each artist had to submit a proposal to be considered for the project, and the original 29 artists were eventually narrowed down to four finalists. From there, each finalist was given a small stipend to create a more in-depth proposal, including a sample of the work he or she wanted to create out of the copper. 

The finalists then presented their samples to the panel, and were each scored on a point system.

Creighton said Allen beat him by one point. The state originally intended to select only one artist to create a piece, but the panel liked Creighton’s work enough to pursue funding both his and Allen’s projects.

“It did require a further vote where I wasn’t involved,” Creighton said, adding that being chosen was flattering.

Allen’s piece is titled “Outside In,” and will depict the silhouette of five trees, intended to represent five generations of female artists in Allen’s family, all of whom lived and worked in Maine. 

The artist’s daughter is also a professional artist, and Allen said her great grandmother, grandmother and mother were also artists, though not as their sole profession. 

“My mother was the first one who was an art teacher. She exhibited her work (too), she was more or less a professional artist though she did other things,” Allen said. “I guess with each generation we have become more and more serious, but it’s all women.”

The artist said she typically does not do commissioned work, but the lure of using antique copper and being able to to create a tribute to her family was alluring. She is also an avid hiker, which was her inspiration to create silhouettes of trees.

“(I liked) that it was going to be from the state and in the state house,” Allen said. “I just thought if my mother was alive she would be so thrilled.”

Creighton’s piece will feature similar imagery, with the artist etching a picture of the Eastern White Pine, Maine’s state tree, into smaller pieces of the copper.

Like Allen, Creighton said he is intrigued by using the antique medium, and likes the idea of the copper plates being pieces of art, instead of just tools to make a print with.

“I’ve never really been a print maker, I’ve always been more interested in the plate than the print,” Creighton said. “Obviously, I’m excited to do it.”

Both artworks are slated to be installed at the Capitol next summer.

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or eclemente@theforecaster.net. Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente.

A model of Judith Allen’s project “Inside Out,” depicting the silhouettes of five trees, intended to represent the five generations of female artists in Allen’s family. 

Judith Allen, a Portland artist selected to participate in the State Capitol Copper Dome Reuse Project. 

James Creighton, a Brunswick artist selected to participate in the State Capitol Copper Dome Reuse Project.

State construction crews position the Minerva statue atop the copper dome of the Maine State House in the mid 20th century. 

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