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Portland Phoenix | Telling It Like It Is: Critical reviews of Portland art, food, and music by students from the Telling Room

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The art critic and intellectual Susan Sontag once wrote that her idea of a writer is "someone interested in everything."

In present-day Portland, there is no shortage of things to be interested in — delicious restaurants, mind-altering art exhibits, and inspirational music. But who's up to the task of writing critically about them?

Young people, of course. This week, we partnered with the youth literacy organization the Telling Room. At their Week in Review summer camp, a group of students aged 11-14 engaged with stuff at the forefront of the Portland cultural zeitgeist, writing food reviews of LB Kitchen, Heritage Seaweed, the Holy Donut; art reviews of shows at SPACE and the Portland Museum of Art; and music by artist JanaeSound.   

It's a common misconception that writing is a way of conveying what you already think. Nah — it's a method of figuring out what you think, and why you think it. We adult professionals can often forget that in our busy daily lives, but these kids are writers, and in reading their perspectives and commentary, their interest in these subjects shines through. We hope you enjoy them as much as we did.

These reviews have been lightly edited for typos and redundancies.

 

FOOD

 

Heritage Seaweed

 

Retailing Maine’s Unrecognized Resource

Maddy Corson, Age 14

Yarmouth High School

Within the shell of an old Portland tackle store hides a rather unusual shop devoted to Maine’s unrecognized resource: seaweed. Heritage Seaweed, owned by local Josh Rogers, boasts numerous seaweed-based teas, soaps, edibles, and other products, roughly 80 percent of which are made in Maine. Heritage Seaweed completely obliterates the age-old stereotype that portrays seaweed as the slimy, groping fingers of the deep. The store’s sole location on India Street is a relatively large and serene space with gentle lighting and an aesthetically pleasing layout, certainly worthy of an adolescent’s Instagram feed. 

As we perused the store, Josh offered us a sample of dried dulse, a North Atlantic reddish-purple algae that ancient Icelandic peoples once used as currency, one of the many ocean-centric products sold there. It is this particular species, which also served as his favorite childhood snack, which inspired Josh to create his unique line of homemade seaweed teas called Cup of Sea. The brand, which is available at Heritage Seaweed, is quickly gaining momentum in this bustling world of coffee fanatics, expanding its reach as far as New York and Los Angeles. There is a tea for every taste bud at Heritage Seaweed — sweet, soothing, citrus, and smoky!

The dulse Josh offered had a surprisingly pleasant texture: soft and chewy, yet gentle on the teeth, contrary to how it appeared visually. The flavors of dulse are those you’d imagine of the sea: briny, rather tangy, and with a trace of sweetness. While I did not particularly enjoy this balance of flavors, there was an aspect so primal to it that I felt a peculiar affinity for the ocean as I chewed, and believe this spontaneous affection for the sea is representative of the store in its entirety. I thoroughly appreciated the experience of Heritage Seaweed, and since it will appeal not only to the youth of today but all other age groups, that the shop will persist to become successful in an industry that has only just begun.

 

Portland’s Seaweed Sanctuary

Avery Rhoads, Age 14

Falmouth High School

Heritage Seaweed on India Street in Portland is the first of its kind. Only a month old, the little shop strives to be unique in a city full of variety.

Owner Josh Rogers, born and raised in Maine, always snacked on seaweed as a kid. After living in NYC and working for Google, Josh returned to Maine to follow his love for seaweed, which has blossomed into Heritage Seaweed, the nation’s first seaweed-centric store. 

Walking into Heritage Seaweed is like walking onto a warm Maine beach. With crunchy wooden floors and salty air, the store feels right at home in Portland. Behind the counter is Josh, who will gladly and thoroughly answer any seaweed-related questions you have, from how seaweed is harvested to what the best seaweed for miso soup is. While most of the products Josh makes aren't currently available, he did create my favorite item from the store, “Cup of Sea," a funky seaweed tea that comes in many flavors. I sampled the eloquently named Emerald Honeybush. While I disliked my first sip, I soon found myself discovering more flavors and filling up another cup. The tea is mostly salty but touches of sweetness and mint make it addicting. Like an ice cube’s subtle mineral taste, it emanates coldness.

Heritage Seaweed carries much more than tea. Seaweed hand creams and soaps all smell divine. The store even carries zany items like kelp salsa. Not all the products will strike your fancy, but the opportunity is there to expand your horizons and try something new. 

 

Heritage Seaweed: Food For Thought

Noah Abbott, Age 12

Cape Elizabeth Middle School

Heritage Seaweed, a new shop that opened July 1 at 61 India Street taking the place of an old bait and tackle shop, is filled with possibilities. From salsa to shampoo, this place has it all. Though a bit pricey, it has good reason to be. Everything in this shop — with the exception of some more environmentally centered items, is seaweed-based.

Asked his favorite seaweed product, owner Josh Rogers responded simply, “dried dulse” — a favorite childhood snack, and one of the many reasons for his love of seaweed. Josh views the shop as a mission to make others see the uses and nutritional values of seaweed. “In thirty years we’ll all be eating crickets and seaweed,” Josh says.

The store is small but cozy. “The size of the store has nothing to do with the endless possibilities that this store could have,” says customer August Faulkner. Most of Josh’s products are locally sourced, his kelp salsa from Alaska being the major exception. Only his seaweed tea, with the brand name Cup Of Sea, is made by Josh. He offers samples on his store counter. “It was very smooth, with a touch of bitter,” said customer Maddy Corson after trying a sample of Cup Of Sea’s Emerald Honeybush tea. This store has innovative ideas that will most likely help in the future, equipped with a dedicated owner filled with seaweed knowledge to impart on those who choose to visit. With seaweed becoming a newfound dietary advancement, this store is not just ahead of the game, it’s writing the game.

 

Can Heritage Seaweed Be What Its Owner Envisions?

Rianna Skaggs, Age 13

Lyman Moore Middle School

Josh Rogers is a purebred Mainer who returned from New York with a dream to make seaweed as popular as lobster. To pursue it, he opened a small store on India Street called Heritage Seaweed. With the store's single location and fairly expensive prices, it most likely won’t get much business because there are cheaper products that do the same exact thing which means customers don’t need a specific store with those seaweed-based products. Though seaweed can be good for you, I wish that the bait shop was still there.  

 

On a visit, Josh gave us an iced South African herbal tea with added sea lettuce called Emerald Honeybush. The tea was colored with an orangey brown and was a new and different flavor to most of us campers. The tea had a very bitter, bland, and earthy flavor that tasted similar to morning breath. Though the tea contained many antioxidants and substances that are good for you, the flavor made it very unpleasant to drink. Josh also gave us some dried seaweed called dulse. The seaweed had a tissue paper feel and a bitter, tangy, sour, and a marshy taste. The dulse we tried soaked up the moisture in my mouth, then it would separate and spread disgustingly all over my tongue.  

 

The store's music was funky and fabulous, which I appreciated. However, the seaweed and the tea were not. Nevertheless, what it takes to make a store and a business requires a lot of dedication, and Josh Rogers had that, therefore I applaud him for his work. The question is, will Josh’s dream about seaweed becoming as popular as lobster come true? My answer is no.

 

Heritage Seaweed — Food of the Future

Ava Ford, Age 13 

Middle School of the Kennebunks

Seaweed, tea, lotion — what do all of these things have in common? A little shop in Portland Maine can explain everything. 

You start by seeing a simplistic sign on a brick sidewalk. A piece of green seaweed greets you as black lettering spells out ‘Maine Heritage Seaweed’. Walking into the store sends floods of relaxation through you as the salty air pricks your skin. As the cool breeze brushes by you, a kind man named Josh Rogers guides you around his store. He explains to you the health benefits of seaweed and how it will impact the future. While his detailed story entrances you, he offers you some tea. His Emerald Honeybush tea and its frosty temperature helps lower the summer heat. Though its burnt caramel color might discourage you, your sense of adventure pulls you in. It tickles your tongue with a slight fruity flavor. With a bit of ocean breeze salt, the sweet notes aren’t too powerful. You swallow it, and it smoothes your senses. The best part is all of the bonuses: anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antibacterial. You can even buy some to take home. 

With a little self-encouragement, the taste of the wrinkled, floppy leaf confuses your taste buds. The fishy aroma of the dried dulse isn’t all that pleasing, and the metallic aftertaste adds to the objectionable flavor. Although the dried dulse is not agreeable, the tea is delightful, and the vibes of Heritage Seaweed are irresistible.

 

Go Team Seaweed

Ella Sobol, Age 11

King Middle School

Go team seaweed is a new vibe as the word spreads about seaweed and its benefits. Josh Rogers, the founder of Heritage Seaweed, sells multiple seaweed and environment-friendly products, from seaweed soaps and lotions to silicone straws and glasses. Most of his products are locally scoured with the exception of seaweed salsa from Alaska. Sadly, he makes only one of the products in his store, the homemade Cup of Sea tea. I hope that later on Josh is able to expand to have more of his own homemade products in the store. 

Josh stood behind the check out counter in front of enlarged pictures of seaweed on the wall that glowed from some unseen light bulb. Herbal tea combined with sea lettuce was my first physical taste. I found it bland and watery with a hint of salt. It was not my cup of tea. I tested one of the lotions and found the smell relaxing and pleasant. It was as though someone crushed a lush lavender flower and fresh seaweed then mixed it with creamy body butter. I want more! 

Josh took out a type of seaweed that had little pouches of air called Rockweed which he exclaimed was not good for cooking but great for the garden and would ”make the plants very happy.” He took out a plant called Irish Moss. It looked as though a cat had vigorously played with it, like yarn. Irish Moss is used sometimes in toothpaste and Josh used it in a chocolate pudding he made (not currently a product in the store). Josh then passed around a bowl of seaweed called dulse, which in my opinion was much too salty and had an uncomfortable texture in my mouth. I am curious to see if I would like any other seaweed and would love to go back to Heritage Seaweed and test my seaweed taste buds.

I think that the store has a great future and that as Josh hopes, the store will become a tourist attraction so he can educate the public on seaweed and its benefits.

 

Holy Donut

 

A Heavenly Hero

Flora Bliss, Age 12

Friends School of Portland

From the depths of stylish and unruly Portland a small oasis arises — the Holy Donut. This stuffy, blue-tinted shop halfway up Exchange Street captures the senses right away. With waiting customers spilling out of the store and the sweet smell of fresh doughnuts wafting down two blocks of pedestrians, it gives off a homey vibe.

43-year-old owner and founder Leigh Kellis’ goal is a noble one. She was living as a single mom in her parents’ basement, and when she started making donuts from scratch for her daughter. When she started to sell her signature potato-based donuts to Coffee by Design, the business potential really started to open up. In 2011, the Holy Donut was ready to take their chances on their own. Nowadays it is a full-blown business, selling big bags of Coffee by Design products in all three Holy Donut locations.

Their business is so successful that the marketing director, Jacob Eslinger, says that they could easily open 10 new stores in the next year and would still be going strong. The problem, he says, is their reputation. See, they want to be known as a small, all-homemade, good-for-you donut shop, not an industrial fast-food chain restaurant. Therefore they are currently “pulling back on the reins.” 

On any given day, an irresistible 20 out of 27 doughnut varieties will be on the shelves ready to be packed up into a Holy Donut to-go box and hustled away to be gobbled up in the store, at home or even while crouching on the sidewalk — which I saw someone do. For me, personally not a doughnut lover, Holy Donut was a revelation. Sweet, crunchy, fluffy and bready, all while making you feel delicious and healthy. 

Overall, according to Jacob this is a fun job for young people where you get to “play with food.” This small business is a safe place for, yes, even adults to lick their fingers and ask for more, but this shop also has a story to it, a hero's story. 

 

Holy Donut: Let Your Soul Taste It

August Faulkner, Age 10 

Cape Elizabeth Middle School 

Walking up Exchange Street, when I looked at the Holy Donut from the outside, it reminded me of my grandparent’s cabin. I got to sample several flavors of donuts; Pomegranate, Blueberry, Maple Bacon, Toasted Coconut and Coconut Milk Glaze, and Fresh Lemon. I enjoyed each from the first bite. The following bites were even better than the last. They were all delicious! It reminded me of a cake that you could never stop eating! 

Holy Donut makes their donuts with potato flour and you can really taste it. Whether a Maine resident or tourist, unique flavors and kind people make Holy Donut well known in Maine as the place to get everyone’s favorite pastry. They currently have three locations: two in Portland and one in Scarborough, and they are considering more! They were founded in 2011 and hope to continue their journey. They do have some opponents, but they are leaving them in the dust! I can see a clear future for this store from now until 2027!

 

LB Kitchen

 

Lee and Bryna Serve Up Meatless Meals and more for Millennials!

Kaia Wirth, Age 14

Kennebunk High School 

Picture me this if you can — a haven of succulents and avocado toasts for millennials and Generation Z’s alike, a place to post Instagram pics of aesthetically pleasing French toasts, or admire the artistic chalk-drawn specials on the board. Vegans, vegetarians, and meat-eaters congregate together in flocks with requests of gluten-free cookies, or perhaps the “Super Basic Sandwich.”

What you’ve imagined, ladies and gentlemen, is indeed real. It’s name? LB Kitchen. The initials in the name give way for some speculation, as “LB” have triple definitions: Lunch and Breakfast; Life and Business; and Lee Farrington and Bryna Gootkind. The first is fairly obvious, the food that they advertise and sell. The following are based off of the owners Lee and Bryna, who are happily married — thus Life and Business, as they are partners in both. 

Despite the modest space inside the restaurant, LB Kitchen undeniably uses all of its potential. Their most observable feature was the kitchen itself, which was distinctly exposed. The delectable scent of their all-natural dishes wafted over the counter, enticing my taste buds. One by one, dishes were presented to our table, each tempting my already salivating mouth. When my breakfast sandwich (The Super Basic) arrived, I was ecstatic to say the least. I savored my first bite, the provolone melting into the aromatic bacon and toasted white bread crunching under my tongue. The sriracha mayo added the perfect, pungent kick to the coconut oil-fried egg. Truly a Sunday morning breakfast that grandma would approve! 

 

LB in ME

Noah Abbott, Age 12

Cape Elizabeth Middle School

The soft lighting when you first step into LB Kitchen, a new restaurant at 249 Congress Street, reminds you of a cozy café. Your food is prepared in an open kitchen using completely organic ingredients, and each bite of fresh, all natural goodness is better than the last. The strange ingredients used in some of these dishes are simply breathtaking. For instance, the Purple Rain smoothie is topped with bee pollen, and the French toast contains maca. Even their milk, known as golden milk, has a special recipe: almond milk with turmeric, black pepper, ginger, and cardamom.

But the food isn’t the only wonderful thing about LB Kitchen. The owners, Lee Farrington and Bryna Gootkind, are incredibly welcoming, and are a major contribution to the warm feeling of the restaurant. Their upbeat-ness rubs off on everyone, LB Kitchen dishwasher and smoothie maker Bianca Peterman commented, “they’re great, I feel lucky to work here.” Lee and Bryna are also the reason for the restaurants name, LB stands for Lee and Bryna, it also stands for partners in Life and Business, as Lee and Bryna are married, and finally, Lunch and Breakfast, as that is what the restaurant sells.

Having opened in February of last year, LB Kitchen has been steadily growing in popularity ever since. Bryna claims that their popularity has doubled since last year at this time, leaving a huge turnout this summer. But their long lines are deservedly so, as this restaurant is appealing to the growing ideal: food that is beneficial for both your health, and for your taste buds. Overall LB kitchen is a wonderful restaurant for families looking for delicious, healthy food. 

 

The Newest Trend

Zareena Wiar, Age 12

Waynflete

LB Kitchen — run by two sweet and over-the-top amazing people, Lee Farrington and Bryna Gootkind — is an adorable and homey little restaurant located on 249 Congress Street. At first glance when you enter, LB Kitchen looks like an all around ordinary restaurant, but stepping in is like a whole new wonderful world. The tiny diner has a beautiful interior with white brick walls, wooden tables with just the right amount of lighting coming from both the large windowpanes and the white metal hanging lights. 

LB Kitchen is the newest trend. The modern little place serves the best tasting vegan or vegetarian food in Portland, with many different tastes and and smells in the air. The food I tasted was a wonderful tasting pancake with natural and local butter and maple syrup. The pancakes were soft and fluffy and when I put it into my mouth everything went silent and I felt like I was in bliss. It was soft and silky and just perfectly fluffy. The food was made all natural, whole and clean — as in no preservatives. The customer service was brilliant we walked in and were greeted with smiles everywhere.

LB Kitchen is also formerly known as Figa, also owned by Lee who now owns LB Kitchen along with her wife Bryna. Lee and Bryna are a happily married couple and their restaurant has been booming for them for a year and I highly doubt that it will end anytime soon. LB Kitchen is a local haven for date nights, family gatherings, hanging out with friends, or just to go to relax. 

 

Living to Eat at LB Kitchen

Rianna Skaggs, Age 13

Lyman Moore Middle School

With white brick walls and big black benches, LB Kitchen, la restaurant with locally sourced ingredients, took my breath away. LB Kitchen, owned and operated by Lee Farrington and Bryna Gootkind, is located at 249 Congress St. The restaurant opened in 2017 with a mission to tell stories through the food. 

When I walked into LB Kitchen I was hit with a wave of incredibly sweet-smelling pancakes, the sound of veggies being chopped, the coffee grinder grinding coffee beans, and people’s chatter. Everything in the restaurant was so different from what I’ve seen before, that I instantaneously fell in love with it. The restaurant is very modern and trendy, but also rustic like an old diner. Each table had a couple plants in little vases perfectly placed on it with cups ready to be filled with water and silverware ready to be stabbed into perfectly prepared food. With the plants in little white vases, wooden and white tables, a wooden rimmed chalkboard, black benches, and yellow stools made the place even more adorable. 

When I got my food, the waitress placed it in front of me. I was awestruck by how astounding the French toast looked. It was cut into strips and placed like building blocks in the middle of the plate with powdered sugar sprinkled on top, butter on one side and a little cup of syrup on the other. The smell of sweetness, sugar, and wheat filled my nose. My first bite was jaw-dropping. The taste of sugar, wheat, natural flavors, and a hint of cinnamon flooded my mouth. It felt and looked like bread, but it was softer and more buttery. Then with the maple syrup drizzled on top of every bite, the sugary and sweet flavors were mesmerizing; so much that I couldn't stop eating it. The crowd of people that pour out of the door simply for the food may be huge, but it sure is worth the wait.

MUSIC  

 

JanaeSound’s “Diamonds”

 

The Song Spreading Like a Wildfire 

Braeden Skaggs, Age 13

Lyman Moore Middle School

 

In the depths of the dark Internet lies the website Soundcloud, allowing anyone to post songs for the world to hear. On this platform, the Portland artist JanaeSound posted a single called "Diamonds" about a month ago, which has roughly 56,000 listens already.

JanaeSound's real name is Janay Woodruff. Her voice is soulful and she sings with meaning. She explains in the first couple lines that, “I’ve got my eyes on the future.” I think she is trying to say the past is the past, focus on the future. 

The song starts with drums and adds piano chords. The vocals gradually blend into the chorus with the slow tempo, instantly causing me to tap my fingers and sway back and forth. The song begins with a sad feeling, but her voice becomes powerful like she's rebounding from a setback. “Diamonds” builds as it goes on and the music becomes stronger. However, the song was a little repetitious and the vocals abruptly cut out in the end. But, it did connect to my personal experiences. The song is addicting and as soon as I heard it, I wanted to listen again. It’s the kind of catchy song that has you humming minutes later.       

Although she doesn't share much information, she started her career around age 9 in St. Louis, Missouri. She began to work her way up the ladder of fame, opening for Flo Rida and now recording an EP at Halo Studios in Windham. She only has one song published but she shares vocals on a hook with Renee Coolbrith on a song by the rapper Sarah Violette called "Owe You Shit."

This song is nothing like I've ever heard on the radio; she introduced the world to new music that is spreading like wildfire. 

 

JanaeSound’s Debut Song Is All It Takes To Get Hooked

Ava Ford, 13 years old

Middle School of the Kennebunks

After being surrounded by overplayed radio hip hop for so long, you'd think that there'd be no other type of music in the world. But looking in the nooks and crannies of Google brings you across an artist called JanaeSound and her groovy song “Diamonds.” 

The song's opening bass drum backing beat and the occasional clap are catchy, and you start to become intrigued. Calming piano chords come in a few seconds later, and the key change sounds unsure. All of those thoughts go out the window when Janay Woodruff’s relaxed voice comes in on some breathtaking notes. After a few crescendos and unexpected high notes, you get to the bridge. When Janay claims “I don't do regret,” the melody starts to climb until it bursts into the chorus. With gorgeous layering and note changing, the chorus glides through your ears. Without any specific set of notes to stick to, you'd think that chaos would arise, but the song design is done so meticulously that not a hint of disorder is found. 

With no hesitation, Janae leaps into the next verse, which has much more energy. The drum becomes much more prominent, and a guitar is added too. The passion shines through in her voice, but not in a way that shows her effort. She says that “We’re under pressure, but we don't feel the heat.” A slight growl comes through on the "don't," which expresses her power and motivation to show it. While getting small Ariana Grande vibes in the best way possible for the next few lines, Janae continues to show us her incredible vocal range. She never ceases to impress in the chorus. Changing keys yet again, and holding several notes for an astounding amount of time shows Janae’s true talent. After repeating a few lines again with an exquisite vibrato, she slides you into the ending. A few plucked violin chords, and you are left breathless. From metal enthusiasts to rap fans, anyone will find something enjoyable in this piece.

 

ART

 

Portland Museum of Art

 

Under Pressure at the Portland Museum of Art

Emma McCarley, Age 15

Cape Elizabeth High School

The instant you walk into the Under Pressure exhibit at the Portland Museum of Art, you are hit with the atmosphere of a past time. The artwork all around begs you to remember. By looking at the pieces you’ll begin to understand, not only the events of the past, but also the feelings people had about those events.

Every piece in Under Pressure is from the 1980s. The show is relatively small, and it is evident that each piece was carefully selected. These works of art symbolize different aspects of a time period and brilliantly capture the way it might have felt to live during the 1980s. 

One of the more eye-catching pieces in the exhibit is a bright and colorful silk screen called “Moonwalk.” The image, by Andy Warhol, is a well known piece depicting the first man on the moon. Though perhaps seeming a bit out of place (given that the first man walked on the moon in 1969, long before the 1980s). “Moonwalk” was actually an image associated with MTV. MTV first started in 1981, making it a large part of the 1980s. This one powerful image helps to represent an era of pop culture.

Next to the silkscreen is a piece of art by Robert Indiana. It depicts a solemn Statue of Liberty. Her jaw is set and a tear slides down her cheek. Robert created the piece for the statue’s hundredth anniversary. It is titled “Mother of Exile” and refers to the United States’ long struggle with immigration and identity. This is one of the pieces in the exhibit that touches on a topic still very relevant today. Pieces like these make the exhibit relatable for people of all ages.

I was amazed at how the art in Under Pressure could convey the feelings of the 1980s in a way I hadn’t experienced before. It’s easy to learn about historic events, but much harder to understand how it would have actually felt to live through them. Many of the art pieces act as a snapshot of the emotions in the 1980s. Looking at them gives you a glimpse at what the public felt when the piece was created. 

Under Pressure: Art From the 1980s, mixed media | Through Aug 12 | Portland Museum of Art, 7 Congress Sq. | www.portlandmuseum.org

 

A Little Dark, a Little Gloomy, a Little Old, But Very Beautiful! 

Skylar Cook, Age 12

King Middle School

As I walked into the Portland Museum of Art’s Clarence H. White exhibition, my mood quickly changed. The dimly lit and silent space was very different from the bright vibrant colors of the rest of the museum. The feeling was reflective and surprisingly eye-opening.

As I walked around the room full of black and white photographs, my mind kept returning to the thought that Wow, times have changed. The photographs of the little girls in their school uniforms with a sort of blank stare into the camera leads the viewer to assume they have no emotion. As I continued to walk around the room, one picture really caught my eye, a gum bichromate print, “Ring Toss” taken in 1899. Instead of the photo being black and white it had a yellowy orange tint, it was the only photo like that in the collection. One other thing that was different about the picture was that the children in the photo looked happy, like they had just found a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Who knows if this was just a coincidence of when the camera snapped the picture? To me it was more than a coincidence.

The dark gray and maroon walls really set you up to see the pictures in a gloomier, sadder type of way. White’s subjects were often people. The pictures of the men were mostly pictures of working men and the pictures of the women were of them with children. This was something that struck me as yes, a little bit of a gender norm and also yes, that was the lifestyle back then. I feel like this collection was a time capsule, a little taste of what it would’ve been like to live back then. This exhibit is something I will continue to play around with in my mind; this was certainly an experience that left me with a little more knowledge, a more reflective mindset and something to remember.

Clarence H. White & His World: The Art & Craft of Photography, 1895-1925 | Through Sep 16 | Portland Museum of Art, 7 Congress Sq. | www.portlandmuseum.org

 

SPACE Gallery

 

Firework Display Made Out Of Vinyl, Tissue Paper, and Mylar

Maya Faulstich, Age 11

Frank Harrison Middle School

Dark, black vinyl strips shadow the walls like a night sky. Splashes of tissue paper strips and shiny Mylar strips color the walls with fireworks. Everything has been cut and glued by hand with watered down Elmer’s glue. You are truly surrounded by time, effort, and beauty. Imagine how much time it must have taken the volunteers and Justin Favela — the creator of the art installation Pólvora — to make all those strips and glue them on! 

When I stepped into SPACE, I was instantly amazed to feel the feeling of WHOA. I know whoa isn’t a feeling, but I felt it. I wasn’t expecting this. It was different than a museum. It pulled me in as if it was the bait, and I was the fish. I had never appreciated art in this way before. “I was really, really excited, I wanted something that had texture. I wanted that sensation, that sense of touch,” says Elizabeth Spavento, who runs the visual art program at SPACE. 

Favela pushes past the ordinary and sets new boundaries for new artists. Favela’s family heritage is Mexican/Guatemalan and there is a tradition of using tissue paper to create art. This art does good in the world, because it represents his Mexican/Guatemalan culture, which is often misrepresented. “I thought it was really neat, and I loved how they had touchable art,” says Ella, a fellow visitor to the gallery. The double meaning of this art; happiness for a fireworks celebration, on the other hand gunpowder for war, gives the art a meaning that is something I’d never seen before. A sadness, a happiness, and a beauty join together to make Pólvora, an art that sets off a firework of motivation inside. 

 

Piñata Corpses? Yes, Please!

Maddy Corson, 14

Yarmouth High School

It is a peculiar sensation, viewing a wall with a texture similar to that of piñata carcasses. Well-known visually but not by name, cartonería, the Mexican art of paper craft, is a term that includes artistic pieces created similarly to piñatas. Cartonería involves the meticulous layering of a variety of colored papers to decorate and embellish a space or form, and is most commonly associated with a parallel technique called paper mâché. Justin Favela, an American artist whose roots run in both Guatemalan and Mexican culture, has adapted cartonería to suit his temporary canvas at Portland’s SPACE Gallery on Congress Street for a stunning exhibition that he has titled Pólvora

Entering the gallery, the intensely bright and celebratory colors, which are offset by their black background, promptly and rather aggressively lure your eyes to the walls, pillars, stage, and benches — any surface that Justin has deemed suitable for his work. Once your eyes are there, you begin to notice the strips of hand-frayed black vinyl, colorful tissue paper, and accents of iridescent mylar layered like a shag carpet from the ‘80s, yet much less tragic. This flouncy, frilly texture is one through which your fingers simply have to be run through, but don’t do so immediately. Exercise at least several seconds of self-control to admire the immense handmade fireworks framed against a black evening sky, all created by the fringed texture, which adds a healthy dose of dimension, movement, and fluidity to the piece. 

Pólvora, the Spanish term for gunpowder, relates to both the subject and the underlying themes of the exhibit. While the name nods to the nearly shimmering explosives suggested by this piece, gunpowder also implies controversy. It is Justin’s hope that Pólvora repurposes ideas of his heritage and leads to discussions on the true essence of being Mexican/Guatemalan-American, even during this explosive exhibition’s brief residence at SPACE.  

Pólvora, installation by Justin Favela | Through Sep 22 | SPACE, 538 Congress St, Portland | www.space538.org

 

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