At the end of May 2019 two 9’ x 9’ mosaics were unveiled on the façade of The Hartley Block, a mixed-use building located at 155 Lisbon St., Lewiston, Maine. The mosaics, both entitled After Marsden Hartley, depict interpretive details of two of Hartley’s paintings: Smelt Brook Falls (1937, St. Louis Art Museum) and Jotham’s Island (now Fox) Georgetown, Maine (1938, Portland Museum of Art). The forest and seaside scenes embody the range of Maine landscapes, from the rugged woods to the granite outcropping of Maine’s coast. Artist Nancy Blum chose the details and design, and Miotto Mosaic Art Studio (led by Stephen Miotto, Carmel, NY), created the mosaics.
The mosaics were commissioned by the real estate developer The Szanton Company (Portland, ME), which dedicated the works to the Lewiston-born artist Marsden Hartley, who once had a studio on the site. From the start, Nathan Szanton, president of The Szanton Company, envisioned mosaics that would serve as an homage to Hartley.
Marsden Hartley, born in Maine, was influenced by the avant-garde in France and Germany, and returned to Maine in the 1930s. Following the regionalist trends of the time, Hartley painted the lobstermen, loggers, and rugged Maine landscape, calling himself “the painter from Maine.” It was WISSEN’s job to research Hartley and potential mosaic artists, write a call for submissions, review applications, make presentations, and help with the selection – which was ultimately the decision of The Szanton Company.
We chose Nancy Blum and Stephen Miotto for several reasons. They had already worked successfully together on a highly successful mosaic installation for the 28th Street subway station in Manhattan. As individual artists, their production has been impressive. Miotto Mosaic Studios has worked with contemporary artists for years, interpreting works and installing them in, for instance, US embassies in London (artist: Sean Scully) and Buenos Aries (artist: Vik Muniz).
It was Stephen’s philosophy of mosaics that convinced us: He is passionate about interpreting color and form in mosaics—not just copying artists’ works. So, for instance, early Hartley paintings, such as Cosmos (1908), consist of tiny brushwork that could be easily transferred into tiny ceramic and glass tesserae (small tiles used in mosaics)—but would not allow for enough creative interpretation of color and form.
Instead, he explained, larger swaths of color allow for greater interpretation. Nancy Blum, meanwhile, explained that a detail of Hartley’s works, rather than the entire paintings, would allow for a feeling of being “in” the scene. Blown-up to 9’ x 9’, the details would be abstract up close, but would clearly convey the landscape from the street view.
The mosaics, while privately commissioned, border on public space, and are meant to be a contribution to the growing arts scene in Lewiston. While the water in After Marsden Hartley: Smelt Brook Falls gently gurgles over the rocks in an autumn scene, the ocean waves crash against the granite boulders in After Marsden Hartley: Jotham’s Island. From up close, the works are completely abstract, and the viewer is entranced by the variation of tesserae. From five inches away, the granite rocks consist of greys, black, greens—and even vermillion.
The ocean waves have swirls of tesserae that do not appear in Hartley’s original painting. When the sun hits the tesserae, the bits of glass glint and glitter.
In an age where real estate development often considers the handsomeness of its façade to be a selling point, The Szanton Company demonstrates that contributing to the beauty of public space through works of art can—and should—be the role of private architecture.
Location: 155 Lisbon Street, Lewiston, Maine.
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