Portland historic preservation panel endorses Tommy's Park mural

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PORTLAND — As murals go for Will Sears, this will be a tall order.

“I was drawn to it by the scale and public nature of it,” Sears said about the four-story wall at 80 Exchange St. overlooking Tommy’s Park. He was selected from 47 applicants to paint the third mural at the site.

By mid-spring 2019, Sears and his team are expected to make the wall their own, with an abstract design unanimously endorsed Dec. 5 by the city Historic Preservation Board on Dec. 5.

During deliberations, board member Penny Pollard asked Sears if he considered the medium a building or a canvas.

“It is both, in this case,” Sears replied.

A primary inspiration for the project will be the color found about an hour before sunset, incorporating only hues found locally, Sears added.

“We feel confident we have carefully followed best practices and standards,” Erin Hutton of Maine College of Art said about the design the board reviewed.

The new mural will replace the trompe l’oeil image painted in 1986 by Scarborough artist Chris Denison, which was removed during renovations to the building.

The older mural, depicting a building exterior mixing elements of City Hall and a former post office across the street, had replaced one Denison painted in 1976.

“It is not a depiction of history per se, but history is a moving target,” Sears said of his design during the HPB meeting.

A Philadelphia native, Sears is the founder of Better Letter, a company that hand paints signs, vehicles and windows. He also co-founded the Portland Mural Initiative in 2015 with his partner, Tessa O’Brien.

While he has painted a mural several stories up on a building, he said this will be the first four-story art he has brought to life.

“Most of the time, when I work in the studio, I am working in a portrait orientation, taller than wide,” Sears said previously.

Sears was selected as the artist following a search that began last spring. Initiated by  Jim Brady of the Fathom Cos., which owns the building, the bids were judged by a panel that included Brady, Denison, Julie Larry of Greater Portland Landmarks, local businessman Cyrus Hagge, and Jessica Tomlinson of Maine College of Arts.

Local artists Michael Droge and C.M. Lewis were also finalists in the selection process.

According to bid materials, the new mural will cost $76,000. In October, Brady said Fathom would be looking at public or private partnerships to help fund the work.

Last spring, Denison said he painted the mural in 1986 for about $24,000, all raised privately.

Tomlinson said the new mural also reflects the growth and changes in the city since the second mural was painted 32 years ago.

“We are filled with light, we are filled with promise,” she said.

Brady said he welcomes the design departure.

“It would have been fairly easy to say let’s re-do it,” he said, “but it seemed appropriate to look at some artwork that related to the forward progress the city is making.”

David Harry can be reached at 780-9092 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Artist Will Sears said local hues and a near-sunset feel are the inspiration for his design for a new mural at 80 Exchange St. in Portland.

Will Sears studies his newest canvas at 80 Exchange St. in Portland. Sears was selected from 47 applicants to paint an abstract design that will incorporate light and shadow from the trees in Tommy’s Park.

The trompe l’oeil mural at 80 Exchange St. in Portland, left, which was removed in 2017, will be replaced by an abstract image by Will Sears.

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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.