Pigeon lights on Winterport middle schoolPortland artist leads workshop on inclusion, pitfalls of prejudice
Winterport — A day-long collaboration April 14 between Wagner Middle School's Civil Rights Team and Portland-based street artist Pigeon was based on a simple-enough idea: Interview someone you don't know very well and draw their portrait along with a single word that best describes them.
Simple enough, except that in everyday life we often simply form opinions about complete strangers. The portrait session, as Pigeon described it, was about getting those interactions right.
"The idea was to do the opposite of prejudice," he said. "Instead of looking at (a person) and deciding who they are, spending time and talking to them and getting to know who they are."
Pigeon moved to Maine about 20 years ago from the suburbs of Paris. He is probably best known for his 2015 work "Mainers," a series of posters featuring portraits of his culturally, racially and ethnically diverse friends with the word "Mainer" in bold letters across the bottom.
The project, which aimed to challenge a wave anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim government policies coming from Augusta and Washington, provoked a wide range of reactions, he said, including some blow-back from people who assumed, mostly incorrectly, that his subjects were "from away" or didn't have jobs.
The collaboration with Wagner Middle School's Civil Rights Team was in many ways a scaled-down version of "Mainers." The main difference, Pigeon said, was that he had drawn his friends, whereas the students were drawing classmates they didn't really know.
On this point, sixth-grader Brianna Chausse was surprised to find her subject, a seventh-grade girl, coming "out of her shell" during their drawing session.
"She usually was kind of quiet, but she started to talk and have fun," Brianna said.
The drawing shows a girl confidently filling the page. Above her head, in alternating black and white letters, Brianna added the word "chatty."
Seventh-grader Gracie Farrar didn't have as much luck getting the sixth-grade boy she was drawing to open up. "He was pretty quiet," she said. "But he was nice." Brianna agreed that he was nice. Gracie ultimately chose the word "quiet" for the portrait, and added an exclamation point for good measure.
Pigeon helped the students glue the drawings to an exterior wall of the school using wheat paste, a staple of his own work. Later he gave a presentation and recognized the Civil Rights Team — two dozen students, all girls, whose application to the state led the school to be chosen as one of eight for a workshop with the artist.