BAR HARBOR — As a resident, Linda Rowell-Kelley has her finger on the pulse of Bar Harbor. As an artist, she interprets her surroundings through shape and color. This puts her in a unique position to use her art to bring people together on a controversial topic: parking meters.
Already well-known for her landscape paintings on display in galleries all over Mount Desert Island and on Islesford, Rowell-Kelley has also recently become famous in local social media groups for bringing the parking meters of Bar Harbor to life.
Before the meters were installed in town last month, Rowell-Kelley had been following the controversy they created. “I’ve read all about the controversy back and forth,” she explained.
Upon seeing a picture of what the meters would look like, Rowell-Kelley said, “they just looked like characters to me.”
She began drawing parking meters as characters, and posting her pictures online.
“I could feel the anxiety in the community” about the parking changes, she said. “I wanted to deflate the negativity. And I think it worked, to a point.”
Once she started sketching the meters with faces, she said, “then they took voice, and they had a lot to say. They have taken on a life of their own.”
“I have not had one negative comment,” Rowell-Kelley said. Her pictures were popular with parking meter proponents, as well as those who were against meters coming to the town.
As Rowell-Kelley continued sketching, the cast of characters grew. One meter was anxious as the paid parking policy implementation date approached. One meter was pregnant, giving birth to a baby meter on May 22, the day the meters were switched on.
“I brought in the old-time meter that I remember when I was a kid,” she said, to introduce in inter-generational subplot featuring the baby boomer meters and the millennials. In one drawing, two meters say of another meter, “Typical millennial, never has coins, just plastic.”
The parking lot kiosks also make an appearance in the series of drawings. Rowell-Kelley has also sketched parking meters in the likeness of such pop-culture icons as David Bowie, John Lennon, Yoko Ono and the people-eating plant known as Audrey II from “The Little Shop of Horrors.”
One of her sketches, a parking meter asking for spare change, has been used with permission by Open Table, a nonprofit weekly community meal program. The organization uses the picture in a poster to ask people to donate quarters for meal attendees for whom paying a meter is a hardship.
“It’s been fun,” Rowell-Kelley said of her sketches, “and it’s been a tension reliever for people.”
As for the meter controversy, she said, “We do tend to be suspicious [of change]. I’m still on the fence.”
However, the art has helped give people a new perspective on a divisive issue. “Somebody said to me that they wanted to hate these things, but now they look at them and laugh,” she said.
Rowell-Kelley does not have any future plans for the pictures at this point. “They’re just a little doodle,” she said. “I did not do them intending to make money.” The parking meters may eventually end up in a painting though, she mused.
Rowell-Kelley studied painting and sculpture at Portland School of Art, now known as Maine College of Art (MECA). She has lived on Mount Desert Island since 1977. Her paintings are currently on display at Side Street Café, Primrose Inn, Saltair Inn, Spruce & Gussy, Mount Desert Island Ice Cream and the Islesford Dock Gallery.