LEWISTON — The Lewiston-Auburn arts community officially welcomed Portland artist Charlie Hewitt with an unveiling of his newest installation Friday night.
Called “Lewiston Rattle,” the seven-piece sculpture was erected over the summer at the vacant lot at 163 Lisbon St., between Ash and Pine streets, where a 2004 fire destroyed at least three buildings, including Marco’s Restaurant.
The installation is publicly funded, garnering support from local businesses and citizens.
“It’s actually a brand for the neighborhood, if it is successful,” Hewitt said in an interview in May. “It should be like when someone says, ‘Where’s that restaurant?’ ‘It’s by that wacky piece of sculpture.’ I love that. I hope over a period of time it finds grace and elegance and integration into the community.”
Hewitt’s meaning behind the piece is to represent the noise and “rattle” of the community. That noise in Lewiston has changed over the years but will always be rooted in the mills that created this community.
Each piece of the installation is 5 to 8 feet tall and sits on the tip of a 20-foot aluminum pole. Two images are inspired by paintings by Lewiston artist Marsden Hartley and a third is an homage to the Somali community.
Hewitt was born in Lewiston in 1946 and raised in a New Auburn tenement in a family of eight. Family, work and community are referenced throughout his artwork.
The ceremonial ribbon-cutting brought a large and excited crowd. The unveiling of “Lewiston Rattle” was part of this month’s Art Walk Lewiston Auburn. Joshua Vink, executive director of L/A Arts, was happy with the turnout. He began his speech with the sound of a skill saw behind him.
“I think it’s great that we’ve got the sound of work in the background,” Vink said. “Manufacturing and getting your hands dirty have always been an emblem of our city. This is our history. It’s our culture.”
Auburn Mayor Jonathon LaBonte shared in that assessment. “This brings us back to our roots. We’re putting ourselves back on the map, and public art will be a part of that.”
The unveiling brought together an eclectic and charming crowd of people from the Lewiston-Auburn arts community. There was a proud air around the sculpture. To some it symbolizes more than just Hewitt’s skill as an artist. It is a new start for Lewiston, welcoming both cultural and economic growth.
Joan Morin, who came to support her artistic cousin, said she was extremely proud of Hewitt. She knew the piece meant a lot to him and was excited for the community to finally be able to appreciate it as well, she said.
“People will look at it and wonder what it means,” Morin said. “Everyone will see something different. It will mean something different to different people.”
For Hewitt it means something specific: “This community has always been a part of me. This is a very emotional piece to me. It is something that says I’m part of this community now.”
Mike Johnson, who runs Sylvan Woods Farm in Portland, agreed with the excitement of the evening. “They’re really doing something down here to make it a better place,” he said. “It’s a great idea.”