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BELFAST, Maine — New artwork in Belfast features swathes of rainbow-colored silk on a base of sumptuous black velvet. From a distance, it’s pretty. But up close, it tells a darker story.
The vibrant piece by Belfast fiber artist Alice Seeger is called “It Takes a Village to Support Domestic Violence.” It’s part of a special, month-long art and poetry exhibit in the city organized by Finding Our Voices, a nonprofit organization aimed at helping survivors of domestic violence.
Seeger, who is from the Hudson River Valley in New York, drew on her lived experience for the piece. She married her high school sweetheart and, from the outside, everything looked fine. But behind closed doors, their marriage was a different story.
Her ex-husband was emotionally and verbally abusive, something she didn’t realize until one of her weaving students overheard him berating her one day.
“That was a turning point,” the fiber artist said.
Seeger is one of more than 60 artists and writers who have contributed photographs, paintings, poetry, sculpture, fiber art, poetry and more to the citywide exhibit. Windows all over the city are blanketed this month with their works, created around the theme of “Love / Not Love,” as well as huge banner photographs featuring the faces of 32 Maine domestic violence survivors.
The exhibit, and the concurrent online silent auction of the art and poetry, will benefit Finding Our Voices, a non-profit organization founded by Patrisha McLean, a Camden-based advocate for domestic violence awareness. There also is an art mosaic on the windows of Belfast City Hall — and a display outside the Republican Journal offices that highlights dispatch calls for domestic violence and reveals the names of some of those whose cases were dismissed by the court system.
Leaving the marriage was not easy for Seeger. It seemed to her that the family court system worked against the victims of domestic abuse and for the abusers. She can’t forget a judge who yelled at her in court one day when she questioned whether her children would be safe with her ex-husband. The judge got so angry at her, she remembers the veins in his throat popping out.
“Are you threatening me? Get out of my court or I’ll have you thrown out for contempt!”
Seeger has embroidered those words, and other indelible phrases from this tough time in her life, in tiny letters on the rainbow-colored silk of her creation.
“The abuse of the justice system was the worst part for me,” she said. “It was such a betrayal.”
The black velvet also has a special meaning for her.
“[It] represents the darkness and the pain and the hopelessness,” she said.
But the final element of her piece, a beautiful butterfly, symbolizes hope.
“It represents true freedom, and really that is where I am now,” she said.
More than 20 years after that hard day in family court, Seeger has a good life. She has a happy second marriage, her children grew up to be successful, fulfilled people, and she lives in Belfast, a city she loves.
“I don’t consider myself a survivor,” she said. “I’m not surviving. I’m thriving.”
McLean is thrilled by how the Belfast business and arts community has come forward to help make the exhibition happen, including the contributions of artists such as Seeger. The Belfast City Council also voted unanimously to proclaim June “Belfast Breaks the Silence of Domestic Abuse Month.”
McLean’s ex-husband, singer/songwriter Don McLean, pleaded guilty to domestic violence assault against her in 2016 in a high-profile court case. The assault charge was dismissed after he completed the terms of a plea agreement in 2017, though he paid fines for three lesser convictions.
“Everyone’s got to look closer at this,” McLean said. “We need to focus in and see it. Every town needs to see what’s happening in their towns. Knowledge is power, and the more information you have, the better.”
“I felt a real welcome here,” McLean said.