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Maine artist of five decades is enjoying a moment in the spotlight

In troubled times, a Maine artist taps into the power of hope.

PORTLAND, Maine — When he was growing up in Lewiston-Auburn and then Brunswick in the 1950s, Charlie Hewitt liked to read one of the most popular magazines of the era. It provided him with news, entertainment, and even inspiration that set him on the path to becoming a professional artist.

“Where I got my visual arts from was 'The Saturday Evening Post,' he said. “That was a big night. When Saturday came, you got 'The Saturday Evening Post' with the cover.” 

Many of them were drawn by the great illustrator Norman Rockwell. Those enormously popular covers got him thinking about something particular: how ideas were transformed into images.

After more than five decades as a painter and sculptor, Hewitt, who lives in Yarmouth and has a studio in Portland, is enjoying a moment. 

A sculpture he created, a neon sign that says “Hopeful,” has caught on in ways he never expected. First erected on the roof of a building on a busy stretch of Forest Avenue in Portland, it has spawned similar signs in Bangor, Lewiston, Brunswick, and more than a dozen other places around the country, including outside the Lincoln Tunnel in New Jersey.

The inspiration, he said, came from feeling alone and isolated in these trying times. 

“I [found] myself in a dark corner with my tribe and my narrative, throwing rocks at the other dark corner and not understanding their tribe. So I said to myself, ‘I’m going to use this. I’m going to dare myself to walk out of my dark corner and stand in the light.’ And I’ll ask you in your corner to be brave enough to come and stand with me.”

The Hopeful image has struck a chord with people, and for that, Hewitt is genuinely grateful. 

“Everybody has these things that grab us, and we don’t understand,” he said. “I just happened to be lucky for once in my life to hit something like that that makes me proud.”

Note: Mugs, bumper stickers, clothing, and other items adorned with the Hopeful image can be purchased from the United Ways of Maine. Hewitt is donating his share of the proceeds to that nonprofit.

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