Exactly 12 years after the IT Men were unveiled in a ceremony at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, they’ll be heading to a new home in Maine to be refurbished and put back on public display by a group with the expertise to take on the job. The Maine Cabin Masters are known nationally for their Maine-based restoration work through their show on the DIY Network. The crew will be taking on the IT Men as a long-term loan from UMPI with plans to display the art installation at The Woodshed, their bar and event venue in Manchester, Maine.
The giant, 20-foot-tall, lime green traffic control figures were constructed out of plywood and once stood at the concert gates of a Phish music festival before taking up residence at UMPI.
“We’re delighted to have found such excellent caretakers for the IT Men,” UMPI President Ray Rice said. “Our priorities were to keep the IT Men in Maine, to ensure that they remain fully viewable—at no cost—to the public, just as they have been while at UMPI, and to confirm that they would be carefully restored and maintained so they can continue to be displayed for a long time to come. Of all the offers we received, this was the one that best met the criteria, and we are so pleased that this art installation will soon be restored to its former glory.”
The IT Men first came to UMPI after Phish’s IT music festival in 2003. Former UMPI Art faculty member Anderson Giles worked closely with then Loring Development Authority Director Brian Hamel to salvage the IT Men after the festival and move them to the UMPI campus with the intent of utilizing them in some way as reminders of the Phish concerts. Following a major restoration effort, they were installed on the western façade of UMPI’s Pullen Hall and unveiled on Sept. 18, 2009. They were put up as a precursor to the Phish Retrospective that Giles helped organize—to showcase the three Phish music festivals that took place in Aroostook County, in 1997, 1998, and 2003—but the IT Men were never intended to stay up as long as they did.
More than a decade later, exposure to the weather and safety concerns prompted campus leaders to take down the installation. Even with another restoration effort, hanging the IT Men back up in the same spot would still create the potential for a safety risk. That’s where UMPI faculty member and Phish fan Dr. Larry Feinstein came in. Seeing the installation in need of new life and a new home, he asked UMPI officials if he could share information on a Phish Facebook fan page to gauge interest. Approval secured, he created a post and directed inquiries to UMPI Chief Business Officer Betsy Sawhill Espe.
Needless to say, Sawhill Espe’s inbox immediately began filling up with stories from those who attended the concerts in Limestone and who had tales to tell about how much the experiences changed their lives. She heard from people from all over Maine, and other places far and wide—from Albany, NY and Burlington, VT to Portland, OR and San Francisco, CA, not to mention Rhode Island, New Jersey, the Chesapeake Bay, and Idaho.
There were offers to “rehome” the IT Men on their properties, as part of concert series, roadside attractions, and music venues. There were proposals to display them at their places of businesses, from ice cream shops and coffee shops to dive bars and breweries. There were notes from podcast hosts and designers, and from those who hoped to use the IT Men as a platform to encourage recovery or as a fundraiser for deserving nonprofits. And then there were the stories: people who met their spouse at those Phish concerts in Maine, who were teenagers attending their first Phish festival, who saw the IT Men standing sentinel at the festival entrance gate and felt like they were entering a new world. All of them happy to safe-keep a piece of Phish history.
“It was wonderful to read all of those messages and to see what an impact the band and the concerts had on people,” Sawhill Espe said. “But of all the offers, we felt strongly that the one that married the needs for current and ongoing restoration and repair with the needs of the University and our requirement for public access, was the offer by Ryan Eldridge from Maine Cabin Masters. We’re very appreciative that they’re willing to take on the cost and responsibility of transport, restoration, installation, and upkeep for years to come and have the resources to do it.”
In addition, Eldridge and crew intend to chronicle the process, from transport to restoration to re-installation, and share the story on social media so all can follow along. Once work is complete, the IT Men will be installed at The Woodshed in Manchester, Maine, part of Kennebec Cabin Company, worldwide headquarters of the Maine Cabin Masters.
Coincidentally but perfectly, the crew will be picking up the installation from UMPI on Sept. 18, 2021, which makes the day not just an anniversary, but the beginning of a new journey for the IT Men to once again stand sentinel in Maine.