Four finalists are chosen to create art for new Westbrook school

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From as nearby as Methodist Road to as far away as Italy, four artists are vying for the chance to make their mark on Westbrook’s new middle school.

A local committee has been working since the spring to define the school’s art needs and figure out who best can fill them. About $44,000 will be given to the artist selected to beautify Westbrook Middle School, which opens in January.

The money comes from the Percent for Art program, created by the Maine Legislature in 1979. It requires that money be spent for acquiring artwork at 1 percent of a building’s cost for newly constructed or renovated public buildings. The state funding was later capped at $50,000, which is what Westbrook received for art at the new $34 million school. Some of the money has already been used during the selection process.

The four finalists are Tanja Kunz, a painter from Westbrook; Scott Peterman, a photographer from Hollis; Aaron Stephan, a sculptor from Portland, and Paola Ricci, a sculptor from Italy.

According to Andy Curran, the local committee’s chairman, more than 50 artists responded to the call sent out by the Maine Arts Commission, which administers the Percent for Art program.

“The variety of work was exciting and overwhelming,” Curran said.

Initially, the artists sent back short proposals with resumes and examples of their work. The four finalists chosen now have until January to come up with a more detailed proposal for what they would like to create for the school.

Peterman, who is director of the Bakery Photographic Collective in the Dana Warp Mill, said he already has a plan.

He’s proposing to fuse old black and white photographs of the city with new color images of the same places. In a process called lenticular printing, Peterman would create large photographs that, viewed from different angles, would flip between the new and old photos.

“As you walk past it, not to sound cheesy, but it’s like walking through time,” he said.

Peterman created a similar project for Mount View High School in Thorndike with pictures from Oxford County.

Another finalist, Stephan, also has a history creating public projects through the Percent for Art program, but he’s not sure yet what he’d like to do in Westbrook.

“I try not to have any preconceived ideas,” he said, and will have to first research and take into account the history of the community, the culture of the school and the layout of the building.

Stephan holds a master’s degree in fine arts from Maine College of Art and has created sculptures for Farwell Elementary School in Lewiston, SeDoMoCha Elementary School in Dover-Foxcroft and the University of Southern Maine in Portland, among other public projects.

Kunz, who lives and paints at her home on Methodist Road in Westbrook, has a background in natural medicine and her knowledge of plants – from their cell structure to their appearance in nature – is reflected in her paintings and drawings.

Kunz said, through the art project, she’d like to offer her vision of the plants in the city, and believes it fits well with the school’s green design.

“I would love to provide the students and the community a new way to see and understand the natural environment in Westbrook,” she said.

No matter who is chosen, Curran said, the local Percent for Art committee – which includes representatives from the Maine Arts Commission, the school, the community and the school architect – can’t go wrong.

“Every one of them is outstanding,” he said. “Every one of them is first-place material.”

“Sphere” is a sculpture created by Aaron Stephan for SeDoMoCha Elementary School in Dover-Foxcroft. Stephan is one of four finalists chosen by a local committee to create art for Westbrook’s new middle school. (Courtesy photo)

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