AUGUSTA — The clerks, the judges and just about anyone touring the soon-to-be-opened Capital Judicial Center in Augusta halt to admire a huge mural.

Painted in muted tones on canvas are Abnakis, explorers, settlers, trappers, ice cutters, quarrymen and others who lived and worked along the Kennebec River during the past 500 years or so.

An osprey clutches a fishy meal, a granite block awaits placement on a schooner, a pregnant woman surrounded by her children carries a bucket near the waterfront and seeks a glimpse of her husband in the distant rigging.

The 30 or more figures depicted in Christopher Cart’s mural bear the poses and even the faces of some people (including construction workers and a few judges) from today.

“It’s a serious mural,” Cart said. “People are doing these things here and making a livelihood.”

While Cart had sketched some figures, “I hadn’t nailed down a model for every single figure,” he said. He pointed to the depiction of a voyageur landing a boat. The face and the pose belong to one of the hundreds of workers erecting the courthouse.


Cart, 53, of Hallowell, has been painting the mural in place over the past few months with frequent interruptions from admirers who want to ask about the work, snap photos with their cellphones and then go on to tell others about it.

The mural — 14 feet tall and 38 feet wide — dominates the main open area on the second floor of the four-story building. It’s the first thing in view for people coming off the elevator and up the glassed-in stairway.

The mural is among several works commissioned through the Percent for Art Project program, which funds art for public buildings.

The courthouse mural is the largest public installation Cart has done. He also created “The Teacher’s Attic” mural for Hall-Dale Elementary School, but that’s smaller and features brighter colors to appeal to the younger set.

At the courthouse, Cart points to the gray and blue colors of the water and land at the base of the mural, where it appears to flow into the gray carpeting. “I kept it very muted in keeping with the seriousness of the building,” he said. “When you’re standing back, the grays will pull you into the painting.”

He intends it as a calming influence on those who find themselves in the courthouse under stressful circumstances.


He is intrigued by the history of the Kennebec River and the development of the surrounding land. He spent months researching it, preparing scaled drawings and deciding how the panels would flow into one another just as the river flows through the area. The river itself is a few hundred yards down Winthrop Street from the courthouse.

Cart climbs a ladder to paint the details near the ceiling, keeping his paint supplies on a short, movable section of scaffolding. For a few weeks now, he’s been painting from the time the building is opened until they close it down at night. “I have until March 1 to finish,” he said. “But it must be done a couple of days earlier because I have to varnish it.


Cart is one of four courthouse artists selected through the process set up by the Maine Arts Commission.

A committee of people from the Maine Judicial Branch, artists, the courthouse architectural firm and others discussed what they’d like to see and then put out a call to artists, according to Julie Richard, executive director of the Maine Arts Commission. A group of finalists then make presentations to the committee. Julie Horn, the commission’s visual arts director, helped direct the approximately year-long procedure, Richard said.

“We’ve heard very positive feedback about this process,” Richard said. “Everyone involved in the committee was pleased with how it worked and what was selected.”


An art budget of $150,000 was set for the $52 million Capital Judicial Center project, which is loosely based on 1 percent of the value of the public space within the building.

“Every project calculates it differently,” Richard said. The courthouse, for instance, has a great deal of restricted space, such as judges’ chambers and holding areas where people in custody await court hearings.


Janet Redfield, of Lincolnville, has installed her bright blue and yellow stained glass work in a large window area at the opposite end of the corridor from Cart’s mural.

While hers depicts a river, it’s not the Kennebec, she said.

“They wanted something very abstract. They wanted something representing flowing water. It’s supposed to be a river with its tributaries. The circles represent towns along the river. On the first floor you can see where the river flows down and meets the ocean with the tide coming in and the swirling currents.”


Redfield has been making stained glass in Maine since 1974.

She spent eight months working on the project, which stands 13 feet high and seven feet wide on the second floor, and has a separate four-foot section on the first floor.

Redfield too has done a number of other projects under the Percent for Art program, including stained glass works in schools in Litchfield, Randolph and Winthrop.

She was given a $50,000 budget for the courthouse stained glass.

Two other artists, Amy Peters Wood and Margaret Lawrence, will have their work on display on the third and fourth floors of the courthouse.

Wood, whose studio is in Georgetown, recently finished an 8-foot by 4-foot diptych painting “A Year on the Kennebec.” A diptych consists of two panels hinged together. Wood’s panels show the 170-mile long river snaking from Moosehead Lake to the coast as the seasons pass by.


Wood, a veterinarian, paints with egg tempera paint made from her own hens.

Her courthouse art — commissioned for $10,000 — took her about seven months to complete, and she will work on the frame as soon as she can get to her barn, she said. It’s the first project she has done for the Percent for Art program.

This was the first project for that program for Lawrence as well.

“I have had a great experience doing these paintings, four 40-inch by 48-inch works on wood panel abstracted from four different points along the river. I spent several months taking trips to various points along the river taking photographs and spending time observing the river,” she said via email.

Lawrence, whose studio is in Yarmouth, plans to install her artwork on Friday.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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