How an Old Portland Train Depot Became an Engine for the Arts

From the beginning, filling Thompson's Point with public art was integral to the developers' plans.

The mural It’s a Beautiful Day, Whenever We’re Together, by Ryan Adams and Rachel Gloria Adams (pictured with developer Chris Thompson), welcomes visitors to Thompson’s Point.

The mural It’s a Beautiful Day, Whenever We’re Together, by Ryan Adams and Rachel Gloria Adams (pictured with Thompson), welcomes visitors to Thompson’s Point.

By Michaela Cavallaro
Photos by Bonnie Durham
From our March 2024 issue

On a patch of grass near the entrance to Thompson’s Point, in Portland, an art installation has grown alongside the mixed-use development that occupies a 19th-century rail yard. The Tree of 40 Fruit comprises four trees artist Sam Van Aken has grafted to produce 40 varieties of stone fruit apiece. In spring, the little orchard blooms into a mosaic of pink, white, and crimson. Come summer and fall, the flowers give way to a mash-up of cherries, apricots, peaches, and plums, most of them rare native and antique varieties. Developer Chris Thompson commissioned Van Aken to plant the grove in 2014, when Thompson’s Point was still largely a construction zone. By 2022, after Van Aken grafted the 40th fruit variety onto each tree, the 30-acre waterfront complex had been thoroughly transformed, housing concert and event spaces, a brewery, children’s and cryptozoology museums, and artists’ studios.

Developer Chris Thompson in front of a retro-futuristic faux toy store by Randy Regier and a mural by Spenser Macleod at Thompson’s Point.

Developer Chris Thompson in front of a retro-futuristic faux toy store by Randy Regier and a mural by Spenser Macleod at Thompson’s Point.

“At that early stage, we had no business spending money on an art project,” says Thompson (no relation to the 19th-century Thompson’s Point slaughterhouse owner for whom the site is named). “But we said, no, the art is actually important.” A native of the Lewiston-Auburn and Freeport areas, Thompson studied painting, history, and philosophy in college, then earned a Ph.D. in cultural history. After a few years teaching at Maine College of Art & Design (where he met Van Aken), he followed his stepfather into the family real-estate business. When he partnered with Portland investor Jed Troubh on the redevelopment of Thompson’s Point, layering in public art was integral to their plans. “Art makes you stop and be present in the moment,” Thompson says. “There’s a provocation, whether it’s disturbing or makes you feel great about the world. We felt like building a place where that can occur.”

In 2021, Thompson’s former MECA student Randy Regier installed NuPenny’s Last Stand on the edge of an employee parking lot. A tiny metal-and-glass building crowned with a Space Needle–esque flourish, the imaginary toy store is filled with retro-futuristic flying cars, rocket ships, and UFOs that remain tantalizingly out of reach behind a locked door. “There’s a little world in there that you can spend all day investigating or you can just walk right by,” Thompson says.

That’s true of even the more conspicuous artworks, including the half dozen murals splashed across the site. Next to Regier’s faux toy shop, an orange-and-aqua swirl of bulging-eyed cartoon creatures called Go Fast Don’t Die, by Kennebunk’s Spenser Macleod, adorns a garage turned studio that Portland artists Ryan Adams and Rachel Gloria Adams moved into in 2021. On a brick wall at the development’s entrance, the Adamses puzzle-pieced the words “Be Here Now” into a mural featuring Rachel’s fuchsia florals and Ryan’s chartreuse, blue, and white gems. Around the corner, another of their collaborations, proclaiming “It’s a Beautiful Day, Whenever We’re Together,” on a field of violet botanicals shares a wall with Listen, a billboard-size illustration of a dark-haired woman cupping her ear, by Portland’s Madison Poitrast-Upton.

The Adamses, who also created Thompson’s Point murals in the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine and Bissell Brothers brewery, brought in Poitrast-Upton, who’d never painted a mural before. Last year, in an effort to foster more emerging artists, they launched pop-up art shows in their workspace under the name Over Here Studio. “We don’t have any interest in running a commercial gallery — it’s more like us inviting friends to show off what they can do,” Rachel says. Among them is Wells-based rapper Spose, whose show Anyone Can Paint took over the studio for a few weeks at the end of last year. The self-taught painter’s slyly funny works include a marsh scene with a pair of hands holding an iPhone in the foreground and a photorealistic image of Wells Beach juxtaposed with Star Wars droids.

Thompson’s Point also hosts art shows, like one by rapper and emerging painter Spose (left), and a mural by Rachel Gloria Adams at Bissell Brothers brewery (right).

Today, there’s enough public art strewn about Thompson’s Point to merit a map on the development’s website to guide visitors from point to point. And there’s more to come. Starting this spring, the Adamses will be curating a rotating mural series on the exterior of their studio and the wall that’s currently home to Poitrast-Upton’s piece. Over the next few years, Thompson and Troubh plan to turn the old rail-yard office building into six artists’ studios, which they hope will lead to more works for visitors to enjoy. “Jed and I would love for Thompson’s Point to be a place where you would come just to see the art,” Thompson says. “We’d like it to feel like, around every corner, there’s something worth your while.”

May 2024, Down East Magazine

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