2014-11-14 / Front Page

Resident campaigns for return of stolen statue

By Duke Harrington
Contributing Writer

Margaret Lyons stands outside her Broadway home with the remaining bits of a metal sculpture vandalized Oct. 24. The chest of the piece she made while in art school was ripped from its mount (foreground), leaving only the feet and limbs. Lyons believes the theft was tied to a dispute she had with a person posting campaign signs in front of her house. (Duke Harrington photo) Margaret Lyons stands outside her Broadway home with the remaining bits of a metal sculpture vandalized Oct. 24. The chest of the piece she made while in art school was ripped from its mount (foreground), leaving only the feet and limbs. Lyons believes the theft was tied to a dispute she had with a person posting campaign signs in front of her house. (Duke Harrington photo) SOUTH PORTLAND — There’s been a kidnapping in South Portland.Well,a partial kidnapping.The perpetrator took the victim’s chest, but left one leg and a foot. That sounds gross, until you realize the “victim” is a lifesized bronze sculpture. Modeled on Nike, the winged goddess of victory from Greek mythology, — but named Keds as a sneaker switcheroo play on Nike’s more modern connotation — the piece was made by Margaret Lyons, and stood guard at the end of her driveway for more than a dozen years.

But at about 2:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 24, someone assaulted Keds and tore her torso from the rebar pole to which it was mounted. As Lyons stood outside her Broadway home Saturday, she said she’s sure the crime was no random act of vandalism.

“A week or so before Keds was taken, someone put a campaign sign at the edge of my property,” said Lyons, pointing out how such signs block the sightline, making her already difficult access to the city’s busiest thoroughfare that much more treacherous.

The sign, said Lyons, belonged to a city council candidate.

“I asked by email to please come move it and after a few days when he hadn’t replied, I removed it,” Lyons said. “It makes sense in my mind that the two are connected.”

Issues with campaign signs are not uncommon in South Portland. Lyons herself said a similar dispute a few years ago over another sign placed in front of her home resulted in a “an old man [who] said he’d kill me.”

According to Detective Reed Barker, spokesman for the South Portland Police Department, there were three or four reported issues involving campaign signs this past election season.

Fifteen campaign signs were reportedly taken from the area on Oct. 21 around Wainwright Circle in Redbank Village. That theft did not appear to be politically motivated, said Barker, because signs from all parties disappeared. However, a week later, on Oct. 26, one particular candidate was targeted. Barker says Republican Kevin Battle, who eventually won by 65 votes over Democrat Rosemarie De Angelis, lost 20 campaign signs in Redbank Village.

Police also received numerous complaints about signs at the corner of Nutter Road and Evans Street, said Barker, but concluded none were placed illegally, or blocked motorist’s vision.

The biggest issue this year involved the vote to legalize marijuana in the city. City Councilor Maxine Beecher, who led the drive to maintain the status quo, said her side placed 100 “No” signs. Of those, 72 were vandalized.

“They were missing or completely painted [over], or broken. Swastikas on them, you name it, we had it all, but nobody got caught,” said Beecher on election night.

Barker said that’s because tampering with a political campaign sign — a civil offence that can net fines of up to $250 per sign — is particularly hard to prove.

“We don’t always catch somebody unless somebody sees them in the act of doing it, or if for some reason we catch someone with a bunch of them underneath their arm or in a vehicle. Unless we have a lead, how do we follow up on it? It’s a random act by a random individual,” Barker said.

And, as it turns out, it’s not just this campaign season that campaign-related vandalism has gone unpunished.

“You’ve got to have something to go on,” Barker said. “I’m not sure that we’ve ever really caught anybody.”

Even so, as crime sprees go, this year’s rash of sign trashings was not unusual. It was, Barker said, about par for the course.

“I don’t recall that this year was overly problematic for us,” he said.

Still, that’s little comfort to Lyons, even if the charge for her statue’s destruction could be elevated from vandalism to theft, because a part of it was taken. Keds has special meaning for her, in part because it was made as a project for a sculpting class while she was at Maine College of Art.

“It was a pretty significant piece to me,” Lyons said, “because I felt like I really had to prove myself to the instructor, because they really didn’t like a non-senior being in that class.

“I’ve done quite a few paintings and some of them just come out magical,” Lyons said. “This sculpture was one of those things. Whether it was luck or not, it was a ‘wowie.’”

Keds also became special because, as well as it turned out, the making of it was not entirely without pain. Lyons burned a quarter-inch hole in her chest when welding it.

“I used to get a lot of offers to sell it, but I just always felt like she injured me, so I’m keeping her,” Lyons said.

Keds was vandalized once before several years ago. At that time the sculpture was knocked over and when Lyons tried to right it, the head and one arm fell off.

She noticed the missing torso when backing out of her driveway, she said, and also noticed that the campaign sign that she’d uprooted and put near her trashcan, only a few feet from Keds, had been jostled, as if someone meant to take it and was interrupted.

As it turns out, a neighbor responded to Lyon’s Facebook posts about the vandalism to say she saw someone messing with the sculpture. The given time was “just minutes” before Lyons noticed the damage, she said.

Since then, Lyons has posted a description of the suspect, as provided by her neighbor: “A large man with broad shoulders, wearing a military-style jacket and camouflage pants.”

On her Facebook page, as well as a special page dedicated to catching the vandal, Lyons has speculated about the connection of the city council candidate, given that she later saw more signs pop up nearby, in front of the business located next to her home.

Those posts have the candidate in question, Councilor-elect Claude Morgan, feeling flummoxed.

“I don’t know what to even say about this accusation. It’s without fact. It’s bizarre. It impugns my integrity to not even be sworn in yet and find myself tied to a very tenuous connection of events,” he said on Tuesday. “It’s been tortuous to watch her connect the dots the way she does. It hurts me personally.”

“I don’t think Claude [Morgan] took it,” Lyons said. “I’m not saying anything against him. I even voted for him. I just think if anyone has a motive, it’s whoever put the signs there. The fact that it was a midday theft committed by a lone adult, it makes sense that it wasn’t a random act”

Police Chief Ed Googins said Tuesday that the incident is “under investigation.” However, both Lyons and Morgan said they have yet to be interviewed by a police officer.

Meanwhile, Lyons would just like to get the missing torso back.

“They literally had to rip her pieces off,” Lyons said. “They pulled it right off the screws, but if I can get the body back, I can rebuild her.

“The piece he took was pretty heavy, he couldn’t have carried it that far,” Lyons said. “I’m afraid if too much time passes, he’ll destroy her, if he hasn’t already. I’m not interested in pressing charges. I simply want the sculpture back.”

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