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Musician, performer plans to hoop it up at First Friday Art Walk

Nikki Hunt will be showcasing her mesmerizing hooping skills in front of Mainely Frames and Gallery Friday night on Congress Street during the August First Friday Art Walk.
Hunt is celebrating her five-year anniversary with her band, but her show with be hoops only, no music.8-1-14-TG-hoop-dance
Hunt, from Gardiner, has a background in musical theater. She got into hooping in 2006.
"A friend of mine told me to go online and see these chicks hooping in clubs," Hunt said. For the first three years, she hooped as a hobby. When the band started in 2009, they wanted to incorporate her hooping skills into the show.
"At the time, I was only waist hooping," she said. "I went online again for tutorials. Then after a year, I started teaching it."
Hunt considers herself a "go-go hooper," more likely to be paid to perform in clubs, than a "flow hooper," more likely to be seen at Deadhead shows.
"You see them at a dance club with booty shorts and a sparkle top," she said. "You can get into more tricks with flow. Go-go hooping is often up on a box where you can't do as many tricks. I'm not really a hippie hooper, mostly because the culture is a bit different."
Her students are mostly women her age or older, who appreciate the fitness aspect of hooping, as well as the fun.
"That's the other reason I got into it," Hunt said. "I dropped a lot of weight in my midsection, and it's low impact, good for older women, or ones with an injury. It's something you can do for a long time without hurting yourself."
She anticipates that her Friday show will be a challenge, negotiating her hoops amidst the crowded art walk sidewalks.
"There's a possibility that there will be too many people stopped to watch, and we may have to move into the alleyway," she said. She hooped it up at the same location in June, when the streets were shut down for the Art Walk, "and it was packed," she said.

Last Updated on Friday, 01 August 2014 01:50

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Bluegrass music and Brite Plastik Things at Think Tank

Blasted Knoll String Band will perform at the Think Tank on Congress Street, across from the Maine College of Art, as part of an eclectic blend of rhythms and visions for the August First Friday Art Walk.8-1-14-TG-artist
Blasted Knoll is an acoustic bluegrass band with Frederik Schuele on guitar, banjo, and mandolin; Leonard Commet Krill on upright bass; Mike Conant on fiddle, banjo, and guitar; and Kurt Karwacky on mandolin, banjo, and guitar. All four members of the band harmonize on vocals.
Their twangy beats will be juxtaposed by "Brite Plastik Things," an art installation by Jobie Cole and Matt Barter that chronicles an ongoing conversation between the artists. "It's about the consumeristic world we live in," Barter said. Over the last two years, the artists have shared a vision that is becoming more centered and tangible.
"It is rare for two artists to agree on anything," Barter said, "but we agree this old system of consumption and pollution can't be sustained."
Brite Plastik Things is an exaggeration, an artistic hyperbole. Cole's use of recurring forms, mixed with neon colors and sharp lines, brings together different aspects of a varied life: skateboard, video camera, and 99-cent signs.
Barter's vision includes space exploration, "the britest and most plastik of all mankind's achievements," in tandem with two graphic novels he's created.
"The paintings and sculptures are a mixture of love and hate for man's obsession with space, a dichotomy," Barter said. In one image, a spaceman floats inverted, taking a selfie on an apple device. In another, Barter has painted himself under his worktable, collapsed in exhaustion. On the table - a space helmet. The other elements in his panel are collections of specimens similar to what a naturalist would have, butterfly boxes, birds mounted in cloches. Barter seems to be sneering at the exuberance of space travel and the wasted resources and pollution, "all for a feather in man's cap, his ego. Meanwhile the earth swirls a toilet bowl and most children on this planet are not properly fed," he said.
Cole and Barter stepped on their rose-colored glasses and see the world as a machine of buy and sell.
"Future man, the gold head with giant glass eyes, is a concept of how man stares blindly into the future, hoping for a better life for his children," Barter said. "For generations, science, nuclear energy, and space travel have kept most of us hoping for positive change. But greed has stifled most altruistic modernists or marginalized them into a corner."

Last Updated on Friday, 01 August 2014 01:50

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Verzosa's farewell: Inspirational arts leader leaving town

Andy Verzosa, the owner of Aucocisco Galleries and one of the foundational forces behind the First Friday Art Walk, is closing shop and heading to Connecticut.8-1-14-TG-Verzosa-2

"It's bittersweet," he said. He was married last year to David Whaples, and the couple has a place in Connecticut. Verzosa has been commuting back and forth for several of years, and although he's moving there for good, he still expects to stay connected with friends and organizations in town.

"I have deep connections to this community," Verzosa said, as he is a board member of the Maine College of Art, the Maine Historical Society, the Ogunquit Museum of American Art, and the Tides Institute in Eastport.

The Aug. 1 Art Walk will probably be the last First Friday Art Walk for which Aucocisco opens its doors. Verzosa said he's closing on Sept. 12, but thinks he'd like to spend his final days here experiencing the street scene. Aucocisco has been at its Exchange Street location for the past five years, and was located uptown at the State Theatre building for 10 years before that.

Although he is perhaps best known for his Ark Walk inspirations, Verzosa has become ingrained in several other artistic and cultural endeavors in town.

Verzosa is hosting a "Meet the Governor" series at his gallery. On Friday, Sept. 5, Democratic candidate Mike Michaud will visit with guests at a brown bag lunch. On Thursday, Sept. 11, Independent Eliot Cutler will hold forth. Both gubernatorial candidates will have their events at noon. Verzosa is waiting to hear confirmation of a date with Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

"It's open to everyone, to meet the candidates," Verzosa said. "It's not a debate. It's a friendly, easy way to access the prospective leader of the state." He held a similar series in 2010, during the primaries.

"I had almost all of the candidates from all three parties come to the gallery," he said. "It had a tremendous response. People got to ask questions and meet the candidates. How often do you get a chance to meet your potential governor? Whether you like one candidate or another, it behooves you to meet all three. You never know, you might be inspired or you might inspire them."

That type of community engagement has been the hallmark of what visitors to Aucocisco Galleries have come to expect from Verzosa, and one of the several events that will be missed.

Kim Volk, one of the directors of Portland Downtown District and an investment adviser with Aurora Financial, said, "While I'm very happy for Andy, the loss to our Maine community is immeasurable."

Volk met Verzosa in 1988 when they began working on campaigns for the LGBT movement.

Deb Peck and Alan Lishness, of Cape Elizabeth, have known Verzosa since he opened Aucocisco in 2000 and have been attending the Art Walk since it began in October of that year.

"It's a loss for Portland," Lishness said, "because of what Andy has done to provide leadership, inspiration, and creative energy around town."

"But it's wonderful for Andy," Peck said, "and we look forward to his returns."

Another way that Verzosa has made an imprint on the collective cultural experience is through radio interviews with writers, artists and poets.

A longtime friend, Christopher White, hosts The Tuesday Night Talk Radio Club on WMPG (90.9 and 104.1 FM), and Verzosa jumped in as an occasional co-host. He interviewed Colin Woodard and Jonathan Lethem, and will be speaking with Richard Blanco this Tuesday at 8 p.m.

"It's a fabulous resource," Verzosa said of the local radio station. "They archive the programs, so even if you don't catch it live, you can always go back and listen to it."

Before he leaves town, Verzosa plans to sell some art — "it's what I'm in business for, what I do well, and what I'm excited to do," he said.

During this interview, a woman and two children from Lewiston came in. One of the boys is an aspiring artist who enjoys working in charcoals. Verzosa showed them some charcoal works, miniature images by Dozier Bell, who is also from Lewiston. Verzosa seems to have a knack for these types of smooth introductions. He said he does not have firm plans yet on his next career phase in Connecticut, but he knows he won't be opening a gallery.

"This is a rare bird, this place," he said of Aucocisco. "Because it's my hometown and I've lived here. I care so deeply about it. It's been more than a gallery, and I don't think I can replicate it again."

Last Updated on Friday, 01 August 2014 01:49

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Anti-trespassing signs vanish, reappear at Monument Square

With anti-trespassing signs vanishing and reappearing, observers have wondered what's going on in Monument Square at the square's Civil War-related statue.8-1-14-MN-square-1

Due to its central location and great visibility Monument Square has always been a site for all sorts of activities and protests connected to various causes. The farmers' market is held there each Wednesday during the warmer months, and last Friday a large protest in support of the Palestinians was conducted there.

Signs cautioning people not to go on the bronze statue which is the centerpiece of the square had been displayed for several years, and for the most part people obeyed those signs. If police saw people climbing and crossing over the low chain fence onto the grass or onto the statue the officers would issue criminal trespass papers to those who ignored the ban.

But this past week those signs were removed.8-1-14-MN-square-2

According to sources within the city, Councilor Kevin Donoghue was responsible for the removal of the signs. Perhaps no one had informed him that the signs were placed there due to previous rowdiness and disrespect to the monument.

The councilor wanted to be able to sit on the statue's pedestal and eat his lunch, so he used his power, sources indicated, and the signs were removed, after he had been told on two separate occasions he wasn't allowed to be in that area. Donoghue did not respond to a message left for him last weekend and was unavailable for comment.

Michael Bobinksy, director of Portland's Public Services, said he has no recollection about past problems at and around the Monument Square statue involving littering, loitering, aggressive panhandling and poor public behavior in general, causing those signs to be placed around the monument.

Employees of his department removed the signs last Thursday. Bobinsky said his only memory regarding the installation of the signs was due to "trouble maintaining the grass. We needed people to get off the grass."

Bobinsky explained, "Our department removed the signs. The grass is now mature and the concern about the turf is minimized." He also added, "The Department of Public Services wants to facilitate the enjoyment of public spaces."

Steve Hirshon is the president of the Bayside Neighborhood Association. He also has his office in a building right on Monument Square and he has seen a lot of action in the square over the years. Hirshon feels the signs are necessary because "It invites bad behavior" when there are no cautionary warnings.

"The monument needs a little bit of protection," says Hirshon, who feels without the signage it opens it up for defacing.
And those signs gave the police the power to deal with noncompliant citizens. He also stated, "I can agree to disagree with Kevin Donoghue. Does Kevin's desire to eat lunch trump protecting public property?"

Councilor Ed Suslovic said he was "very disturbed to hear a decision was made to remove the signs." He says, "There are plenty of other places for people to sit in Monument Square."

He stated, "I expressed my concerns to the (city) manager."

Jessica Grondin, Portland's director of communications, on July 28 told the Sun that the reason the signs were taken down was because "it was requested to give people more access to the monument."

She stated, "It wasn't known that there's an irrigation system under the grass." Then she said, "It wouldn't be prudent to keep the signs down." Grondin said, "The signs will go back up by Friday."

Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said, "The signs give police the ability to be proactive protecting the monument."

After hearing that the signs were being replaced, Suslovic said, "I am personally relieved to hear that the signs are going back up. I was somewhat troubled by the way these decisions were made."
The signs went back up on Tuesday, July 29.

Councilor Suslovic also had some pertinent questions that have gone unanswered:

• "Why wasn't the Portland Downtown District consulted before the signs were removed?"

• "Why weren't veterans' organizations consulted before the signs were removed?"

• "Why weren't the Portland Police Department and the Department of Public Services consulted before the signs were removed?"


Last Updated on Friday, 01 August 2014 01:49

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Our Lady of Victories

Monument Square is the site containing the largest Civil War monument in Maine, Our Lady of Victories, also commonly referred to as the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. This 14-foot-high bronze sculpture is in the heart of Portland's downtown area. The statue commemorates the 5,000 Portlanders who left their city to volunteer to fight in the Civil War. That number represented approximately one-fifth of the city's population at that time.

The statue of the large female figure has a crown of leaves on her head. A sword wrapped with a flag is in her right hand; in her left hand she carries a shield and a branch of maple leaves. The inscription on the sculpture says, "Portland, to her sons who died for the Union." The statue was erected from 1889−91, and was dedicated on Oct. 28, 1891.

Franklin Simmons was the sculptor. On the sides of the statue closer to the base are smaller bronze figures representing three soldiers and three sailors. Simmons also crafted the State Street sculpture of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He was a Maine native who moved to Rome, Italy, in 1866, a year after the end of the Civil War. Simmons spent the last 45 years of his life in Rome, where he maintained his studio.

According to Maine State Historian Earle Shettleworth, Simmons had met with Abraham Lincoln the day before Lincoln's assassination, and he had an appointment to do his portrait the following week.

Richard Morris Hunt, a distinguished New York architect, who designed the chateau on the Biltmore Estate and designed the base for the Statue of Liberty, was commissioned to design the granite pedestal for the Monument Square statue.

On April 1, 1998, the sculpture was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Signs cautioning people not to go on the statue had been displayed for several years, and most people obeyed those signs.

If police saw people inside the area cordoned off by the low metal chain they were able to ask them to leave or to issue criminal trespass papers to those who refused to ignore the ban.

But this past week those signs were removed. (See related story.)


Last Updated on Thursday, 31 July 2014 23:51

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