AUBURN — Most people drive by, or walk by, never giving the Edward Little sculpture a thought.

Alan Manoian wants that to change.

He said the “world-class sculpture,” created in 1877 by a prominent American artist, is covered in wasp nests. It’s been used in pranks by high school students. And it’s poorly displayed.

Manoian, an economic development specialist for the city, gave the Auburn School Committee an art appreciation lesson Wednesday night. By the time he was done, committee members gave him the green light to explore how the sculpture could be restored, which he said he would start on immediately.

He said the sculpture was created by Maine native Franklin Simmons, born in 1839 in Webster (now Sabattus). He died in 1913 in Rome.

“It’s amazing work,” Manoian said of the sculpture. “Go up and spend time to look at it.” The thoughtful look on Edward Little’s face, the well-formed hands, the cape that drapes the philanthropist — all profound, Manoian said.

Photographs don’t capture the artist’s genius, he said. “You really have to look at it.”

The sculpture was ordered by the city of Auburn in 1873 at a cost of $7,500. It was cast and made in Rome from bronze that came from Germany, “the best bronze the world can furnish,” read an 1877 Lewiston Evening Journal article. Its base is made of Hallowell granite, chiseled by S.H. and J.W. West of Lewiston.

The sculpture, and another Simmons created of a Civil War soldier in Lewiston’s Kennedy Park, are the first two works of public art “ever erected in the state of Maine,” Manoian said. “Therefore, we can lay claim that Lewiston-Auburn is Maine’s cradle of public art. It’s powerful. It’s important. All artists should know this is our city.”

The Edward Little statue was unveiled during a ceremony attended by thousands, at Edward Little Park in 1877. For years the statue stood in front of what used to be the high school and the park. In 1965 it was moved to the new high school on Harris Street when the school opened.

Manoian said Simmons moved to Lewiston at age 13 and attended Bates College, starting his profession in Lewiston. By the time he was 26, he was an important artist in Washington, D.C., sitting with President Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln’s Cabinet and Civil War leaders to create their likenesses in paintings and sculptures.

Today, Simmons’ works are “treasurers throughout the nation” at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, in museums and public spaces in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, New York City and the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland.

Simmons created the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow sculpture and the Soldiers Monument at Monument Square in Portland.

“If you go to Washington, D.C., stand right in front of the U.S. Capitol and there you will see the most extraordinary ‘Peace Monument.’ This is Franklin Simmons,” Manoian said. “This is who did your Edward Little statue. This is how important it is.”

But, he said, “I can’t tell you how many former students said, “’Alan, you know what we did to that thing? Nailed it with paint. Put beer cans all over it’ and other illegal substances.” One told Manoian he smashed a pumpkin over the sculpture’s head.

“None of Simmons’ other works have been treated this way,” Manoian said. “It’s taken a good beating.”

Committee members agreed that the statue should be repaired and its history shared.

But committee member Bonnie Hayes said, “We have no money.”

Manoian said he would look into grants. He also suggested a community campaign, adding that people would take pride in knowing they had a role in a restoration.

Committee member Ron Potvin asked whether the statue would be moved. That decision, Manoian said, should be made by the people of Auburn.


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