June 9, 2023

Maine State historian Earle G. Shettleworth Jr. said murals like the one in my house were popular in New England during the colonial period from about 1890 to 1950. There was a nostalgia for a past that had disappeared and a feeling of wanting to reclaim and identify with it.

The theme of the murals also speaks for a confident identity of Kennebunkport or an awareness of how the outside world views the city, according to Richard D’Abate, former director of the Maine Historical Society.

Kennebunkport is portrayed in these scenes as a link to the Revolutionary War, to prosperity and ultimately to a “kind of idyllic, quasi-aristocratic American-style gentility”. This identity is best represented by the city’s association with George HW Bush, whose grounds in an area known as Walker’s Point attracted world attention during his tenure as president.

The murals offer a curated version of a story and identity. For example, there is no representation of the Native American people, who have called the country their home for thousands of years and who gave the city their name. And the impetus to maintain its colonial roots in the 1920s may have been a response to the rapid changes in immigration, economics, and transport at the time.

However, the oral tradition behind the murals speaks for vulnerability and friendship. The story goes that Mr. Norton became addicted to absinthe while studying art in Paris. He settled in Kennebunkport at the behest of his mother, who hoped village life would help him overcome his addiction. Judge Luques, aware of the artist’s talent and condition, urged him to stay sober and finish the murals. He finished it in three weeks for a fee of $ 400.

I think it’s this story, more so than the one depicted on the four walls, that resonates most in the room. The civic judge who beleaguered but talented artist, the house itself, which was built off Maine, was a state, a witness to the fortunes and misfortunes of its successive owners.

I’ve been thinking about how to share the murals when the pandemic is over. Mr Shettleworth said that sometimes murals are moved outside of a house, but I think in this case it would be like cutting a flower from its stem. The context is an integral part of the story.