LEWISTON — A growing number of artists are recognizing Lewiston-Auburn as a place that’s welcoming new public art projects, and those in the art community want to build on the momentum.

Auburn-native Andy Rosen and stone sculptor Hugh Lassen are among those who have already seen the shift firsthand. The artists, who were featured in a Great Falls Forum discussion Thursday, have multiple installations to their name in the area, and spoke about their relationship to the community.

Rosen, whose local work can be found in the Bates Mill complex and outside Baxter Brewing, said Lewiston’s mill buildings have been a source of inspiration. Rosen described his work as playing on our relationship with the natural environment, finding public spaces “where the wild has crept back in.” An installation of his in Portland, featuring wild dogs, drew considerable attention.

Beckie Conrad, co-chairwoman of the L-A public art working group, speaks to artists Hugh Lassen and Andy Rosen, bottom, during a Great Falls Forum on Thursday. Screenshot from video

He said after years away he moved back to Maine, wanting “to be more tied to a community.” The mills and canals inspired his recent work, “Ledgers,” which features a series of fox sculptures in the canal. The sculptures are made from brick, like the mills surrounding them.

“That became an interesting idea for me,” he said Thursday. “Taking a classic utilitarian material, then using it in a more expressive way.”

Beckie Conrad, co-chairwoman of the Lewiston-Auburn public art working group that has been organizing the recent projects, said the Twin Cities has been “developing a very significant collection very quickly, and working toward policies to make sure we can continue this long term.”

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The group received a Maine Arts Commission grant in 2019 that spurred much of the recent work, but Lewiston’s Choice Neighborhoods initiative has led to another round of public art. This time, six pieces will be installed in the 12-block Tree Streets neighborhood, where they are destined for vacant lots and community gathering spaces downtown.

“Ledgers,” a public art installation by Andy Rosen, includes three groupings of lifelike foxes sitting on shelves over the canal between Baxter Brewing and Bates Mill No. 5 in Lewiston. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

One of them, likely in Kennedy Park, will be created by Lassen. Last year, Lassen had a similar sculpture erected in Auburn, floated down by crane onto a slice of land next to the Longley Memorial Bridge.

He said Thursday that most of his earlier experience was figure drawing. But, when the Scotland native moved to Cherryfield, he brought that emphasis on the figure to stone sculpture work.

Lassen said the Auburn piece, “Bud Form,” was the largest he’d done so far, and that public art was still relatively new to him.

“The higher mountain was public art,” he said, where you’re “putting work in front of people who don’t necessarily want it in front of them, which is exciting.”

Both artists said Lewiston-Auburn was “willing to take a risk” on them, which is important in growing public art and for cultivating meaningful projects.

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Rosen said when he pitched “Ledgers” at the canals, “I threw out what I thought was a very ambitious idea,” and to have it accepted so well “gives oxygen to artists.”

A sculpture by Maine artist Hugh Lassen named “Bud Form” is on the Auburn side of the James B. Longley Memorial Bridge. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Asked about the feedback from the public so far, the pair said it’s been positive. Lassen has another smaller sculpture in Westbrook, and he said in a recent photo he noticed the grass around the base was trampled down, leading him to believe that people are at least using it as a spot to sit or rest.

“They might just be eating ice cream, but I’ll take it,” he said.

Lassen said he was part of discussions with neighborhood residents about the upcoming installations in Lewiston, listening to feedback. He said he tried to convey the idea that the art is “an attempt to enhance their experience, not a snooty artist just putting something into their neighborhood.”

Conrad said L/A Arts has rolled out an interactive map of all the public art in the area and will promote it this spring for walking tours.

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