Category Archives: March 14

The challenges behind creating a compelling outdoor mural aimed at celebrating MCST’s presence in Rockland

Computer rendering of new MCST mural

In the fall of 2016, when mid-coast voters overwhelmingly approved a $25-million bond for a new 89,400 square-foot building for the Mid-Coast School of Technology (MCST), the school’s board of directors knew it wanted the new structure not only to be a state-of-the art facility for its career and technical education programs, but to also make a compelling visual statement about its mission. And the school’s executive director, Elizabeth Fisher, had just the person in mind to make that possible: St. George artist, Katharine Cartwright.

“Before the vote, my husband Dan Verrillo and I had been involved in discussing with executive director Fisher and others at MCST the possibility of setting up a scholarship fund because we really believe in the school’s mission,” Cartwright says. “I guess she looked me up on my website and saw my ‘Laws of Nature’ paintings, which are mostly mechanical, and really loved them.”

So Fisher asked Cartwright to serve as “Artist Consultant” on a project to create a mural for the exterior of the new building that would not only make the visual statement the MCST board hoped for, but would also involve students from the school’s graphic design program and MCST Design/Technology Instructor Brandon Soards, who would be responsible for the technology that would be involved.

“When they asked me to do this, of course I said ‘Yes!’ immediately, thinking, ‘Won’t this be fun?’” Cartwright says with a wry laugh. “I thought, too, creating a mural would also be a way of participating in the Rockland arts community. And I liked the idea of being somewhat behind the scenes, pushing the students forward.”

At first Cartwright’s hope was to use working groups of the design-oriented MCST students in designing the mural. “So I started working with the kids in 2017, batting around ideas about how to represent the 16 different programs offered at the school in the design,” she recounts. “But eventually I realized that it wouldn’t be possible to meld all the ideas into one, that we had to clearly focus on one idea.”

That idea, Cartwright determined, would be what had been the “heart and soul” of the school’s curriculum from the beginning and would continue being so into the future: marine technology, automobile technology, computer technology and carpentry.

“So I thought, okay, I have to make this work. I know what in my head I want it to be, but I also have to allow the students to have some control over the project so it’s not just me designing it, which was certainly not what the board wanted. So I identified a student, Matthew Shaw from Oceanside High School, who I felt from the beginning really understood the sort of design we needed and who could move somewhat in that direction without fully imitating me.”

Shaw worked on the project with Cartwright during the summer of 2018 until school started up again last September, when Cartwright asked him to assemble a group of students he wanted to work under him. Shaw was the lead designer, with Alexys Schaeffer from Camden Hills Regional High School the lead 3D modeler and Jette Keene from Medomak Valley High School the lead texture designer.

“It was wonderful working with Matthew,” Cartwright says. “Of course, when you are working with somebody what’s in their mind is going to be completely different from what’s in yours. So for a while it was like playing tennis. I would hit an idea his way and he would hit it back with a little change on it and I would hit back and we would go back and forth—it became a true collaboration.”

Cartwright says that the bulk of the time she and the MCST students worked on the mural’s design was taken up not so much with artistic issues as with associated technical challenges of one kind or another. Chief among these, she explains, was correcting for the inevitable distortions that arise when creating a work of art of a scale that dwarfs a human being.

“When a mural extends a distance above your head it affects how your eyes see it. So we had to deal with what we thought the distortions would be when it’s blown up to full size,” Cartwright says. “We were able to project the design on the building digitally and then look at it from many different angles. We hope we have it right.”

Paintings such as this one by Katharine Cartwright, “Fourier’s Law,” led MCST to invite her to be the Artist Consultant for the mural project.

Related to this was creating a design with elements that are interesting in themselves but that also harmonize with each other—something which was complicated by the fact the mural was to turn a 90-degree corner. “So we worked hard on having a variety of shapes and sizes and orientations, on how these forms relate to each other and on what path the eye will take as it looks across the mural,” Cartwright says. “So we had to establish what I call ‘flow paths’ for the eye: when you’re driving past it looks a certain way, if you’re walking into the building it looks a certain way, if you’re walking by on the sidewalk it looks a certain way. So we had to consider all those different viewpoints, which is hugely difficult to do. And then the way the building is oriented to the road and the distance from the road are also factors. I had to really, really nitpick on this because when you blow a design up to the size needed you see every flaw.”

That the mural was created digitally, Cartwright notes, not only meant that the designers could anticipate problems that might arise when the mural was at its full size, but also that they could get visual effects that they wouldn’t have been able to get if they were painting this on the building’s walls. Instead, the mural will be digitally printed onto a vinyl that will be adhered to large metal sheets that are 4-feet by 8-feet in size.

Cartwright looks forward to the moment when the mural will be installed on the new building, possibly this coming May or June. And while the 13 months or so she spent on the project were an intense experience, she is pleased to have been part of it.

“I loved it. I loved the challenge. And I really enjoyed mentoring the students and seeing them grow. So I think that between the mentoring and participating in the Rockland art community in this way—afterall, this will be the largest mural in a town that has declared itself the ‘Art Capital of Maine’—and also doing something to help elevate MCST’s presence in the community has been very important to me.”—JW

Ye olde fishin’ holes…

Nature bummin’ with Kirk Gentalen—

Ice hole at the north end of the marsh

The air can be crisp on some winter days. The snow may be fresh and the animal tracks can feel like they can go on forever. Other days, however, are loaded with little more than super slick ice, backed with sideways blowin’ wind that generously brings a single-digit chill with it. The world can seem pretty trackless on a day like that. As if no animal in their right mind would trek, much less find any other animal out and about. And while one of these days comes with challenges different than the other, both days can be great to look for animal sign!

When venturing out onto any frozen, aquatic biome (the Tenants Harbor marsh for instance), it’s a good idea to be aware of where patches of thin ice might be. Natural openings in ice occur for numerous reasons and can be anticipated along the ice edges, directly above and below beaver dams, or where a creek runs into a pond or other waterway. At places where water is flowing fast there might even be open water after a string of negative-degree days. Survival instincts hopefully tell you to stay clear of such areas, but openings like these can actually be hot spots to check for tracks and trails even on the bitterest of days! It doesn’t get lower than 32 degrees in the fresh water below and so life will go on under the ice regardless of the blizzards and winds we deal with above. Ice holes offer a glimpse into such worlds.

There is a wonderful ice hole at the north end of the marsh which stays open all winter. It’s a main entry point used by several species of semi-aquatic mammals to access the non-frozen, fresh water habitat below. When an otter crosses to the marsh from the Ponderosa or Seavey Cove, they often make a beeline for this opening upon arrival. There also happens to be an otter latrine located within 10 feet of the hole. The three local otters, which I lovingly refer to as “Moe, Larry, and Curly,” all mark at this latrine, and are known to come out from under the ice simply to spraint and then return to under. Otters are creatures of habit and will mark such a spot regardless of weather!

Mink trail with tail track

American Mink will also use this hole to gain access to the water world below. On an especially cold day this winter a mink came out from under the ice, explored a very short distance, and then returned to the hole. The mink left a section of “tail tracks” near the opening, documenting a period of focused activity at the opening—possibly working on keeping the hole open. On cold days some openings require a bit of maintenance.

Another day, there was a set of muskrat tracks coming out of the hole and then marching off through the woods. I followed the trail maybe 400 feet to a separate wetland system I had not visited previously. The muskrat obviously knew the terrain well—better than I did, for sure—and exactly where it was going. The hole put the muskrat close to this secret pond, and to the next set of plants for it to mack on. You just never know what you might find at an opening like that.

Pickerel remains at the ice hole

But this isn’t the only ice hole in the marsh of course! Earlier this winter, I followed an otter trail left by “Larry” that led to a hole in the ice that was in the middle of the marsh. The trail was focused and direct—this otter obviously knew of the opening and possibly helped to keep it open. Larry went in and out of the water several times as evidenced by the significant amount of tracks in the area. Eventually the otter headed to the west, towards the Ponderosa, but not before feasting on a pickerel it had brought up from below. All that the otter left was the fish’s mouth and a bloody spot alongside the opening. Ask anyone who ice fishes and they will tell you the same thing—catching fish is easier if you can get to them (them being fish). This was Larry’s fishin’ hole for the day and, needless to say, I now visit this spot every time I get on the ice.

Holes in ice are key for semi-aquatic mammals and critters to access food and for transortation. Conditions might be rough on the surface, but at the same time life goes on underneath. Being critters of habit, these animals will still come out from under—even if it’s “just” to mark a latrine – leaving clues to activity as clear as snow. One just needs to make it to the openings!

And so we’ll see you out there!

PHOTOS: Kirk Gentalen

A brief history of the town poor farm

The history of how poor people were dealt with in St. George has varied over time. The early records of the town following incorporation in 1803 mention the practice of auctioning off the poor to the lowest bidder. The auction price was what the town would have to pay the bidder for caring for the poor. Therefore, a lower amount was paid for the able bodied (this might include a widow and her children) because they could work, and a higher amount was paid for the elderly and infirm who couldn’t contribute to household income. This auction took place at the annual town meeting and was good for one year. This was felt to be a good practice by the poor because if you ended up with someone who did not treat you well, there was a light at the end of the tunnel at the end of the year.

Another practice that preceded the auction, and dated back to the 1700s, was the “warning out of town.” If it was felt that any newcomer to town may become a charge to the town, the town fathers would issue a notice to the constable to order the people to leave town. They may or may not have left town, but this put them on notice that they could not come to the town for assistance.

At a town meeting in 1830, St. George voters created a committee to look into the creation of a poor farm. Like true New Englanders, this option was looked at as saving money. Then, in 1837 the Town of St. George purchased from Benjamin Linnekin for $1,600 a piece of land containing 100 acres. The town owned this property, which was located just north of Wiley’s Corner, until 1945 when it was sold to August and Joanna Johnson. During this period those needing assistance from the town would be admitted to the poor farm. Town records report those individuals who were admitted during the year and those in residence as of the end of the year.

In the early years of the poor farm the residents not only included the able-bodied poor and the elderly and infirm, but was the place where you would find orphans, criminals and those suffering from mental illness. Those who were able were expected to work the fields and care for the animals. There was usually a superintendent of the farm and his wife, the matron of the poor farm, who was very important as success of the farm depended upon her overseeing the gardens and livestock, plus being the caregiver to the elderly and infirm.

The old poor farm property is currently owned by Alan and Kitzi Benner, but the old buildings are gone. —John Falla

Wickham Skinner, advocate of local conservation and education

Longtime St. George resident Wickham Skinner Jr. died at the age of 94 at the end of January. He was a recognized expert in industrial production and enjoyed a 24-year career on the faculty of Harvard Business School. In 1984 he and his wife Alice moved to a 28-acre Saltwater farm in St. George. The couple were active sailors. Wick also earned his pilot’s license and took up painting soon after moving here. He also enjoyed playing tennis and did so into his early 90s.

Wick served on the boards of many educational and community organizations in Maine, but members of the St. George community will long remember Wick for the significant contributions he made to the quality of life here. A man deeply committed to conservation of the natural environment, he was an active champion of the work of the Georges River Land Trust. As John Hufnagel, vice-chair of the Trust’s board, noted after Wick’s death, “We will miss Wick. He was always generous with his time and pondered questions asked him with his open intellect and experience as a listener. He delivered advice with a personal caring and grace which was always taken to heart by us because we knew he cared deeply. Wick acted upon his beliefs with certainty, and put a large piece of his beautiful land in a conservation easement to help protect forever a stretch of our treasured St. George River.”

A distinguished educator, Wick also became a booster of the St. George School after it became its own Municipal School Unit. School superintendent Mike Felton recalls Wick coming to him more than three years ago with an offer to fund a project that had a 50/50 chance of success, something the school might not normally do because of the expense and risk involved. “So we began the Makerspace initiative,” Felton said. “For me and so many staff, students and community members, Wick reminded us that anything is possible and that this school community can serve, challenge and engage all students. For some students, the Makerspace has been a lifesaver. Where they may have been less engaged and drifting through school in the past, now they are designing 3D models and building and programming robots that perform specific tasks.  For all students, the Makerspace Initiative challenges them to apply their creativity and intellect to solve problems. It has moved our students from being consumers of technology to producers—and with that change comes a feeling of empowerment that is priceless.”

Wick Skinner loved St. George and loved Maine. That he showed that love so very concretely has been a great gift. —JW

Kitchen garden talk: Deer prevention? (Part one)

At the end of last month’s “Kitchen garden talk” column, at the suggestion of George Tripp we asked readers “What works best for deer prevention?” We asked several St. George gardeners we know their views. We got some very interesting responses—and not enough space to run them all this month, so we will run a second column on the topic in April. —JW

Mark Bartholomew, Tenants Harbor: Last summer we had far less deer damage than usual.  In the past, we’ve used Deer Tape fairly effectively.  It does seem to be a deterrent to deer entering an area to feed. But what seemed to help more than anything else is a trick I learned from my Yupik (Alaska Native) friend Joe.  When we are processing salmon at his camp on the Kenai River, we are frequently pestered by yellowjackets.  These critters are quite carnivorous, love salmon and will dispute you for the fillets.  Joe always takes a juicy chunk of salmon and places it on a platform above our work space.  The yellowjackets find it rewarding to go there where no one is swatting at them and they go quietly about their business as we cut fish without worrying about using an EpiPen.

Our home in Tenants Harbor was built on an established deer trail. Said trail leads right to our backyard raised beds.  So based on Joe’s strategy, I went about 20 yards up the trail and started putting out goodies for the deer.  I began doing this after the chard reached a tempting size.  Goodies included a little corn, apples—even peelings from the pie making—and trimmings from pruning and other gardening.  They even went for corn cobs, which they cleaned very well.  My game camera provided evidence that they would stop there, have a snack and move on past other temptations.  It seemed to work, even without deer tape, rotten garlic, human hair, human urine or coyote pee (all of which work but must be replenished frequently). They spared our chard until well after frost had killed everything else and I had to quit feeding them as deer season had begun and feeding (baiting) is not permitted then.

I have spoken with others who have planted a sacrificial crop nearby with the same result.  There is a special deer feedlot mix for this.  Good solution if you have the space.

Despite all the best measures, some deer are clever and persistent and cause significant damage.  When this happens, and the offending critter can be reliably identified, the lethal option might be in order but only if all else fails (and the season is open).  So far, I’ve not had to exercise that option on our neighborhood herd and hope that doesn’t have to happen, especially with our very special antlered doe that hung around all summer and fall with her twin lambs.

In a war of wits with hungry deer, I frequently feel unarmed.  Working with them does seem a little more effective than outright conflict.

Good luck to all of you who garden in this deer haven called St. George!

Jan Limmen, Tenants Harbor: I use bird netting placed over certain veggies, laid directly on top or slightly raised so as not to touch the veggies or other plants. I also spray the non-edible foliage of root crops, like carrots, with a product called “Liquid Fence.” The only spray I found to be very effective. Repeat spraying after a heavy rain is advisable.

I have in mind to put up a simple seven-foot plastic wire fence around my little vegetable plot. Love to use my “sling shot” when applicable. At some areas I will place on skewers pieces of Ivory soap. This would be a trial, someone recommended.

Next issue: What works best for deer prevention? (Part two) There is still an opportunity to add your observations! Send your replies to julie@stgeorgedragon.com, or to Julie, c/o St. George Dragon, PO Box 1, Tenants Harbor, ME 04860.

PHOTO: Loreen Meyer