By Jean Noel Mugabo
When Lewiston’s L/A Museum underwent a name change and became Maine Museum of Learning and Labor – or Maine MILL – Executive Director Rachel Ferrante looked for a way to signal to the community the beginning of a new, more inclusive era for the museum. She found that way through the work of Hungarian French American artist Orson Horchler.
Horchler, known widely by his artist name “Pigeon,” is a man of many talents. Among these is his mastery of creating large wall murals in public spaces. Ferrante had seen his murals, thought they’d be perfect for Maine MILL, and commissioned him to create one for the museum. The mural was completed over a two-day period (and in the middle of a giant snowstorm) on February 28 and March 1.
“I’m really excited about Pigeon’s piece … his work is emblematic of the type of progress and institution we are trying to be – a visual representation of a lot of the things we talk about here [at the museum],” Ferrante said.
Horchler is passionate about the importance of bringing people together, and he lives his passion. He believes that host communities and immigrants should come together, mingle, and learn from one another.
The mural is the latest in a series of “Mainer Project” murals Horchler has made around the state over the past eight years. Horchler said the subjects of his “Mainer Project” murals are always people like him, who for various reasons live in Maine rather than in their original homes: Abijah arrived in Lewiston in 2022; Araksan is an educator and community health worker who has been active in the Lewiston community since she arrived in 2016; Assasi is a Syrian-born rapper who has been a refugee in Nepal, India, and Malaysia – after living in so many countries, he describes coming to Maine in 2017 as “the biggest culture shock;” Ruby is from Oaxaca, Mexico.
The museum hopes to serve as a place for the community to gather, Ferrante said, and the mural serves as an excellent representation of that message. “The [subjects] are all people who represent our community, and representing Maine is exactly at the heart of what the museum is trying to do inside,” she said, adding that Horchler is an ideal partner whose artwork represents its goals.
The Mainer Project was born in the era of former Maine governor Paul LePage: “I was really upset at that time because the governor of Maine … was saying that he was going to stop asylum seekers from getting general assistance,” Horchler said. Outraged by the lack of support for those fleeing persecution and seeking safe haven, he created an outdoor mural right away. Within a day it had been torn down. So he decided to create his mural again, but this time he called the media, figuring that with wider exposure, the mural might be left alone. It worked, and since then, schools, organizations, and individuals have approached him both to create murals and teach workshops.
Horchler is passionate about the importance of bringing people together, and he lives his passion. He believes that host communities and immigrants should come together, mingle, and learn from one another. His day job is in construction, and his other love is music – both his construction company and his music group are named “Bondeko,” a Lingala word that means “the feeling of being family with those who are not your blood relatives.” And his team members come from all over the world
“I feel so lucky to have people from different experiences. It makes my company so much stronger, and in my personal experience it is such a gift to have people with various experiences from various cultures,” he said.
According to Horchler, some individuals may be hesitant to work with individuals from diverse backgrounds, such as immigrants. He attributes this reluctance to a lack of knowledge and understanding about people from different backgrounds. He noted that many people are supportive of a more diverse Maine community, but may lack the necessary knowledge and skills to effectively collaborate with individuals from different cultures and backgrounds in order to build successful teams. The Mainer Project aims to break down walls and encourage individuals to engage in conversations about diversity.
The artist said more grants and other support should be available for art that is relevant to what is really happening in Maine today. And certainly one of the things that is happening today is a change in the demographic makeup of the state – it is common knowledge that Maine residents are no longer as exclusively white.
The dream for the L/A Museum began in 1996 and the museum opened its door in 2004, founded by community members who had had the foresight to save much of the machinery and important documents, photographs, and information from the mill buildings as they were closing. This was the era just after the Somali in-migration began. Now Lewiston is home to people from all over the world.
“Having Pigeon’s work on the side of the building shows a landscape of faces, all people who represent our community and represent Maine … This is exactly at the heart of what the museum is trying to do inside.”
Horchler created a homemade glue that he used to affix the murals to plywood, then he screwed them onto the museum’s outside walls. The artist emphasized that his work is temporary and will eventually degrade. The community may view the works anytime at the future museum site at the former Camden Yarns Mill at 1 Beech Street, Lewiston.
For more information about Maine MILL (formerly Museum L-A) and its events and exhibits, visit mainemill.org or call (207) 333-3881. The museum is located at 35 Canal Street, Lewiston. Current visitor hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
The Mainer Project at Maine MILL is made possible by Androscoggin Bank, with additional support by Community Credit Union.