KINGFIELD, Maine — As Route 27 winds alongside the Carrabassett River in western Maine, a sharp-eyed traveler can spot something unusual —- a large peace symbol made of white river stones, shimmering just under the surface of the shallow water.
The peace sign showed up four months ago, tickling passersby and starting conversations in the area, according to Bob Gray, the editor of the Kingfield-based Original Irregular weekly newspaper, which ran a photograph of the mysterious art installation on the front page in August.
“I thought it was great,” Gray said this week. “It’s one of those things you have to stop and pay attention to. It’s very subtle, instead of something that’s glaring and garish.”
That kind of reaction is just what David Allen, the artist who created the peace sign, was hoping for. The 39-year-old from Sebago describes himself as a somewhat burned-out carpenter who recently has turned his curiosity and considerable talent to making art out of what he finds in nature. Instead of using paint brushes or chisels, Allen employs rocks, leaves, sticks and more. And instead of canvas paintings hanging on a museum wall, his art is best appreciated when stumbled upon outside, he said.
“I’d be happy to do this every day until the day I die,” he said. “It’s very fulfilling to me. People tell me, ‘I saw what you did, and I am very inspired to do it, too.’ You don’t get that from carpentry.”
Allen is originally from Massachusetts and said he’d been self-employed there when the economy went bad during the Great Recession.
“Money was hard to make and the energy I got from living there was negative,” he said.
So, knowing a couple of people in Portland, he decided to plant roots in Maine. That was a good decision, he said.
“My whole time here has been awesome. I’ve made some really great friendships,” he said.
He also has found inspiration in the landscapes around him, and has been making a name for himself with his art, which he photographs and then shares through his Stone Point Studio website and Facebook page. Allen recently was named the artist-in-residence for the Wells Reserve at Laudholm, a national estuary research reserve in Wells.
“It was just the thing I was looking for here — natural objects, left in their natural spaces to appear and disappear,” President Nik Charov of the reserve said Friday. “We have a timeless setting that’s really a center for studying our changing times. Any artwork that helps convey that idea [will be a good fit.]”
Allen said he’s looking forward to working at the reserve, part of a national system of estuarine research reserves run through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“I do love the idea that you can do awesome stuff with leaves and sticks and rocks and nature, that you can use that as a medium,” Allen said. “One of the driving reasons why I keep doing it is that I am always meeting interesting people and having interesting conversations. It seems that the art is kind of an ice-breaker — people feel like they can talk to you.”
Lately, Allen has been making arches out of stones. He’s been practicing a heart-shaped arch, which wasn’t easy, he said.
“I drew all these pictures that were totally wrong. Then I had an epiphany one day of how to do it,” he said.
He went to Fort Williams in Cape Elizabeth a few days ago, where he worked on a couple of heart-shaped arches until he made the one that will last — at least, for a while. The ephemeral installations are not designed to stick around forever, but rather to add a bit of beauty to the day of those who do see them.
“The heart means a lot of different things to me,” he said. “It’s definitely one of my reasons for doing all this. I take a lot of happiness from making people happy with this stuff. It gives me a lot more personal satisfaction than installing windows and doors for an hourly rate.”
Allen hopes to parlay his passion into a viable business one day, and believes that he is gaining traction slowly on that goal. In the future, he plans to do commissioned art and conduct workshops.
Krissi Dyer, who lives in Carrabassett Valley, said that Allen’s art can make her day.
“I like that it’s art that can only be enjoyed and never bought,” she said. “Therefore, the worth is decided by your mood, and how it strikes you in that particular moment.”