AUGUSTA (AP) — To some, the weathered green copper sheets that have been removed from the Maine State House dome may just look like scrap. But to the artists in Maine who are clamoring to get a piece, it looks like opportunity.
The state had planned to recycle most of the 100-year-old metal that’s being replaced with shiny new copper. But lawmakers are now considering whether to sell or give some of it to jewelers and artists for sculptures or keepsakes so that the public can share a piece of the historical copper.
For artists, like Andreas von Heune, it’s a no brainer.
“Why would we melt this down when we have this wonderful material that carries so much culture with it, so much history with it?” said von Huene, a 58-year-old sculptor who lives in Arrowsic.
One part of the plan, which the bi-partisan panel of legislative leaders that’s overseeing the dome restoration could vote on this week, includes selling some of the copper directly to jewelers and artisans to create art pieces.
The state would also hold a design competition to create souvenirs, which would be sold to the public. Other pieces of the copper would be used to create a public art piece for the State House Capitol Complex.
Von Huene wants to use the green copper panels to create a sculpture within the plants and trees at the Viles Aboretum — or somewhere else with a view of the capitol dome — so that viewers’ eyes will be drawn from the art piece to where the copper laid for more than a century.
“So much of our lives are set on a book or computer monitor. When do we pick our heads up and look into the distance?” he said. If the sculpture makes that connection, “you’re going to pick your head up and look at the dome,” he said.
Much of the copper on the dome has already been replaced and the entire $1.3 million project is on schedule to be done in November.
But lawmakers are still grappling with how much the art proposal would cost and whether the state can afford it. The original plan to recycle most of the material was expected to produce around $15,000.
“Clearly, we don’t want to spend a million of taxpayer dollars in order to do something fancy with the roof,” said Senate Democratic Leader Anne Haskell of Portland. “The whole idea is to be able to allow people in the state of Maine to share the artistic and historical value of that copper.”
The Bangor Public Library, which completed a $3 million replacement of its own century-old copper roof last year, brought in around $10,000 by auctioning off pieces of the copper and jewelry crafted from the material, said Barbara McDade, the library’s director.
Several Maine artists have express interest in using the Statehouse copper for a variety of projects, said Julie Richard, executive director of the Maine Arts Commission, which is helping lawmakers with the art proposals.
Von Huene said that even if the plan doesn’t move forward, lawmakers’ interest in helping Maine’s art community is encouraging.
“Even if nothing comes from it, the idea that people in state government are willing to do something like this, that’s a very happy and healthy sign.”
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