HALLOWELL — Residents and commuters might not want to remember the tangled traffic on Water Street from the reconstruction, but the local art that lined the street could be more desirable.

The murals, painted to jazz up fences that separated pedestrians from construction workers, are now being auctioned off to support future art projects in Hallowell.

The initiative was spearheaded by Down with the Crown Committee, tasked with promoting Water Street businesses during construction, and Harlow Gallery Executive Director Deborah Fahy. The initiative kicked off in April with about 30 people painting murals at a “paint-in” at the Harlow Gallery.

The murals were painted by local businesses, established artists and children from local schools. Of about 100 murals hanging throughout the reconstruction project, 88 are up for auction. Some businesses provided their own canvas and were given the opportunity to take the artworks before the auction.

Fahy said three murals are missing. She thinks they were stored while still affixed to construction fencing, and she has put out “an all points bulletin” to locate them.

The auction, which started Sept. 29, is scheduled to end on Oct. 30.

Fahy describes the condition of the murals, marred from being outside in a construction zone for months and hung repeatedly, as their “unique provenance.” Some of the murals were cleaned by some volunteers because dirt was caked on them.

“We had a crew cleaning them up. Some of them were really dusty and had mud on them,” Fahy said. “It was all a messy process, but it was a fun project.”

She expects that 80 percent of the murals will be sold during the auction, but she believed some of the murals painted by children could go unsold. More than 50 of the murals for sale had not attracted any bids by Friday.

“Some of them are pretty darn good, but kids’ art can have a more limited appeal,” she said.

All of the murals have buy-it-now options set at $1,800. Fahy set that price after reviewing the prices of work by the professional artists and aiming higher so bidding wars are encouraged.

“The fun is in the bidding and the game (is) to see how high things go,” she said.

The painting given the highest value is Jen Greta Cart’s depiction of a mermaid on the city’s bulkhead. As an added nod to Hallowell’s culture, she is sipping a cocktail and sitting in a red Adirondack chair. The highest bid on that mural is $175. The mural with the second-highest bid, $160, is a nod to Vincent Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night,” but with Hallowell’s cityscape.

City Historian Sam Webber and his granddaughter Emily Webber, 18, collaborated on a mural depicting the Granite City Park Adirondack chairs overlooking the Kennebec River. He said he and his wife regularly visit the bulkhead after a night out in Hallowell.

Sam Webber said he has a background in art and his granddaughter takes art classes at the University of Maine at Augusta.

“I went to prep school in New York,” he said. “I’ve been painting since the ’50s.”

Proceeds from the auction will benefit future art projects sponsored by the Hallowell Arts and Cultural Council, in cooperation with the Kennebec Valley Arts Association and the Harlow Gallery. Fahy said the Harlow Gallery has had a difficult year because of the reduced traffic and a change in location.

“It’s been a tough year for everyone downtown, even more so for the Harlow,” she said. “We saw a drop in attendance and a corresponding drop in revenue.”

Some of the funding may go toward creating a granite sculpture for the city. Fahy said a lot of Hallowell’s granite has left the city, but the city does not have a granite sculpture.

Funding also might be used to help pay for a mural that is being painted on the back of the Vallee Real Estate building by Chris Cart, Jen Greta Cart’s husband. The mural is aiming to be a visual history of Hallowell, and a public planning session will take place before painting starts.

“It’s in the middle of the research phase right now,” Chris Cart said. “I’ve been talking with the historical committee … and a lot of the old-timers around here to get as much of the pertinent history about the (city.)”

Sam Webber said he has been in talks with Chris Cart on what to include in the mural. He said he had several thousand historic photos in his collection, some of which he sent Cart to consider when making the image.

“I’ve been sending him pictures,” Webber said. “One thing we came up was with was the base of the mural would be the granite quarry.

“On the bottom, a guy with a hard hat coming up with a piece of the trolley track,” he added.

Chris Cart painted two murals. One showed a collection of people dancing, and the other depicted two people peeking around a fence.

“I just grabbed a skinny canvas and I got inspiration to do a couple of people peeking around the corner of the fence,” he said. “It was a spur of the moment (thought).”

The mural depicting the people at the fence was given to the Maine Department of Transportation project resident Karen Libby at a caution tape-cutting ceremony Friday to commemorate two-way traffic being restored in Hallowell. Another mural was given to the Sargent Corp., a contractor for DOT, thanking the company for its work.

Libby said in September that the construction crews got a kick out of the murals and could be bidding on their favorites.

“The boys always look at them,” Libby said. “We had brought a bunch in this morning and the guys, as they were lugging them in, they were saying which ones they like the best.

“I said, ‘Well, you know, they’re going to have the auction,'” she added.

The murals will be picked up at either the Cox Memorial United Methodist Church or Middle Street or the Harlow Gallery on Water Street. Shipping is available for those who cannot travel to Hallowell.

To access the auction, view this story online and click the link at the top of the story.

Sam Shepherd — 621-5666

[email protected]

Twitter: @SamShepME

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