In 1997, a new sculpture titled “Titonic” went up smack dab in the middle of a shopping plaza parking lot in my hometown of Waterville. 

It was a strange looking thing, all right. Composed of shiny silver, the sculpture featured a giant orb, random vertical pylons, a sweeping metal form meant to symbolize “a city on the upswing with awareness of global concern,” and three wheels to represent the history of trains in Waterville. 

My, how the hometown boys hated that sculpture. For weeks after it went up, hard drinkers would stumble out of bars  and stagger over to the plaza just to point and laugh and occasionally vomit at the weird looking thing. Angry letters were written to the editor of the newspaper, demanding to know why the city had paid $80,000 for such an eyesore. 

Even I made the 45 minute drive from Lewiston to have a look at Waterville’s new artwork and I’ve got to admit, it was a little too abstract even for my tastes, especially given the curious choice of location. It was an eye-roller for sure, but then a strange thing happened. 

In 2018, city leaders decided to move “Titonic” to another spot: down to the head of the falls alongside the mighty Kennebec River where it now stands in the shadows of the old mill buildings across the river in Winslow. In it’s new spot, not far from the train trestle and the Two Cent Bridge, “Titonic” seems to be in a more appropriate context. What seemed odd and absurd back in the busy plaza parking lot actually has meaning down here in the historic riverfront section of Waterville. 

Go figure. Now the people have grown to love the sculpture. It’s become a part of the city’s identity, no longer a point of ridicule for those hard drinkers on their way home from The Chez. 


For Lewiston Mayor Carl Sheline, the story of “Titonic” may provide a bit of hope. With a growing art presence in Lewiston, reactions to the various sculptures, murals and statuary have been mixed. 

Although in some cases, not mixed at all. 

In late April, Sheline made a simple Facebook post to praise the newest art installation in the heart of the city. 

“Exciting new sculpture,” he wrote, “in Kennedy Park.” 

That “exciting new sculpture” was the “Wind and Wave” exhibit, which was described at the time as “a multi-stone sculpture with a wave-shaped carving pattern.” 

The people of Lewiston didn’t exactly see it that way. 


“It’s a rock,” wrote one local. Actually, about a hundred of them shared this comment. 

“Did we actually PAY for this?” demanded another. 

“Couldn’t we do something to help the homeless,” wondered a local woman, “instead of paying money for a rock?” 

I could list more aghast comments about the rock, but if you live in Lewiston, chances are you’ve heard them already. Sheline sure has. 

A few months later, another sculpture went up in Kennedy Park titled “Arboreal Figure.” This one was said to “combine nature and a human figure reaching into the sky,” although not all of Lewiston’s art critics saw it that way. 

“Yay,” wrote a local man. “Another rock.” 


“A giant cup handle?” offered another. 

“A waste of time, space, money and resources,” fumed another commenter, one of hundreds who weighed in on just that one Facebook thread alone.  

There were some filthy comments to be found about the sculpture, but I’ll let you use your imagination with those. 

In a way, Mayor Sheline gets it. 

“People have opinions on what they see as the identity of their city,” he said. “Abstract art, like the new sculpture in Kennedy Park, seems to enjoy a markedly different reception compared to murals with flowers. I think that when we ‘can’t tell what it is, it’s a natural reaction to assign the artwork less value.”

The people were a little kinder to the art exhibit known as “Nailed It,” featuring a giant hammer and some monster nails at the corner of Pine and Howe streets. This one was less abstract and for many it represented the blue-collar tradition of Lewiston if nothing else. 


Not that there weren’t SOME snide comments. 

“I’m not risking death just to go downtown and look at a giant hammer,” declared one local fellow. 

And folks still complained that money was being spent on art instead of on more tangible things, like homelessness or the drug epidemic. As it turns out, that’s an erroneous argument. 

“People think we should be doing other things with the money,” Sheline said. “We really can’t — most of it is grant money. It’s for specific purposes.” 

By the time “Wind and Wave” and “Arboreal Figure” came along, the people of Lewiston were still getting over the brief presence of the “Lewiston Rattle,” which stood on Lisbon Street for about two years.  

Appreciation for “Lewiston Rattle” had always been mixed, as well. A quirky kind of piece, to many it appeared to be little more than a bright yellow doodle sitting atop a 20-foot pole in a vacant lot between Ash and Pine streets. Some thought it looked suspiciously like the Google logo while others insisted the artwork was — get ready for it — a big waste of money that could have been used elsewhere. 


The “Lewiston Rattle” has since been moved to the Bates Mill Complex where it may enjoy the kind renewed appreciation the folks of Waterville found for the former parking space hog known as “Titonic.” 

For Sheline, who happily attends each and every unveiling of these new art projects, it’s sometimes a matter of just waiting the criticisms out. Perceptions often change over time. Live with a piece of art long enough and maybe a person becomes more comfortable with it. Maybe he even comes to appreciate it. 

Such was the case with the giant, multicolored zebra painted on the side of the Centreville parking garage, off Pine Street, in 2018. 

“When we first got the zebra,” Sheline said, “a lot of people hated it.” 

What does a giant, multicolored zebra have to do with the city of Lewiston anyway, is what people typically complained about then. 

Now, the mayor said, all he hears are positive comments about the mural. People have grown fond of the zebra and even look forward to driving by it on their way to here or there. Given time, the zebra won the affections of the locals. Can that kind of transformation happen with ALL the art appearing around the city? 


Sheline rather hopes so, because art in Lewiston isn’t going away any time soon. 

“There’s really a resurgence of art here in Lewiston,” he said. “I’m not talking just about murals. We have artists in town and galleries and art walks.” 

He’s right, too. Personally, art in one form or another is happening faster here than my eyes can keep up with. The other day I was riding down Walnut Street when I noticed that the big brick building at the corner of Bartlett Street had been painted with all kinds of cool flora. I mean, it’s a jungle out there and it speaks to me.

A few minutes later, I was cruising past Canal and Chestnut streets where I spotted yet another building that was likewise freshly adorned. Brand new, was this mural, with its abstract shapes and colorful gradients. I knew this one was fresh because I could still sniff the scent of spray paint hanging in the air. 

A few weeks earlier, I was startled by the sight of a giant blue bird on the side of a building on Main Street — startled in spite of the fact that this particular art had been there for two years already. 

The enigmatic yellow contraption titled “Young Trees Going for a Walk” has been standing in its vacant lot at Birch and Bartlett streets since the end of last year, but to me, it already feels like it’s always been there. It’s a part of the downtown Lewiston scenery, and that corner would look weird to me if it was suddenly gone.

It remains to be seen if the people of Lewiston will ever grow to love “the rock” in Kennedy Park like they’ve grown to love the zebra on the Canal Street parking garage. Maybe if it sits there long enough, time alone will declare it an integral part of the city landscape and that will be that. It won’t be just a rock, it will be OUR rock.

Like at an art gallery, I suppose if we don’t care for one particular piece, we can always move on to the next one.

“The amount of public art now in Lewiston is really quite spectacular,” Sheline said, “and has already attracted statewide attention. I think that over time, public art has the power to change not only how others view Lewiston, but how we feel about ourselves. We can’t expect outside opinion of our city to improve until we love ourselves first.”

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