I stopped in my tracks when I saw it.

Its beauty is amazing, but what is it?

Entering the Portland Museum of Art, I gazed at Anna Hepler’s enormous installation piece, “The Great Haul,” made from a nestlike mesh of salvaged and sewn plastic strips, hanging from the 22-foot high clerestory to about 4 or 5 inches above the floor.

Natural light shines throughout the piece, hitting translucent plastic and creating an ephemeral effect. In some places it looks blue. In others, it looks silver.

Interestingly, Hepler created “The Great Haul,” her largest work, in the center of the first-floor entrance to the museum known as the Great Hall. The piece makes one think of a giant fishing net and as such was appropriately created in Portland, a community overlooking the sea. Even its title, “The Great Haul,” brings to mind the sea.

Most importantly, “The Great Haul” challenges viewers to think.

It challenges us to explore something original and fresh, an artist’s way of expressing herself through spacial relationships, light, volume and intricate design. And for this artistic expression, Hepler used only common materials — plastic strips, a sewing machine, thread, a stapler.

It is an amazing work that is, in some ways, an optical illusion. It looks light as a feather yet is made of heavy woven plastic strips with weights added to stretch it from the ceiling to just inches off the floor.

Hepler’s installation is open to many interpretations. I decided that it reflects the way the artist sees the world. She has created beauty out of the ordinary, weaving plastic strips in harmony with one another.

A visitor from Holland had this reaction to the installation: “This work is amusing. It is a creative challenge to see something in an art museum changing its shape while you watch it. It looks light and yet strong like a parachute.”

“The Great Haul” is part of PMA’s “Anna Hepler: Makeshift” exhibit, which also includes 20 prints and a related inflatable installation.

Hepler’s exhibit, up through Oct. 17, is the first in the museum’s new series of exhibitions called Circa that will focus on new aspects of contemporary art in the state of Maine.

According to the PMA, Hepler’s cyanotypes (blue prints) and drypoint prints combine photographic and traditional print-making techniques with imagery that relates to her three-dimensional installations. Like her sculptural pieces, the forms pictured in these prints are semitransparent and defined by light.

The artist’s “Full Blown” installation on the museum’s fourth floor is an inflating and deflating sphere made of translucent plastic and wide pieces of tape in geometric patterns. It is attached to a machine in the ceiling that blows air into it intermittently.

Hepler, who has lived in Maine for eight years, has taught at the Maine College of Art in Portland and at Bowdoin College in Brunswick. She has exhibited throughout the country and recently completed large-scale installations at art venues in Washington, Massachusetts and Rockport.

The museum at Seven Congress Square is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday; and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students with ID, $4 for youths ages 6-17 and free for children under 6. Admission is free from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday.

Pat Davidson Reef has a master’s degree in education and has taught art history at Catherine McAuley High School in Portland. She has written two children’s books, “Dahlov Ipcar, Artist,” and “Bernard Langlais, Sculptor.”


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