Sculpture of mill worker a nod to Biddeford's past

Sculpture of mill worker a nod to Biddeford's past
A bronze sculpture by artist Jane DeDecker at the courtyard at the Lofts at Saco Falls in Biddeford. SBN STAFF/Liz Gotthelf
Liz Gotthelf, Publisher

 BIDDEFORD — She stands tall and proud, reminding all who come to the courtyard at the Lofts at Saco Falls of the city’s history.

The seven-foot tall bronze sculpture titled “Can you see me?” by Colorado sculptor Jane DeDecker was commissioned by The Szanton Company to honor the workers who produced textiles and machinery in the surrounding former mill buildings from the 1840s to the 1950s.  These workers played a large role in founding the community, said developer Nathan Szanton.

The sculpture depicts a woman, her hair pulled back out of her face, arms full of bobbins. A boy stands next to her, barefoot, half of his young face hidden behind her apron. They are reminders of the buzz of machinery and the sweat of toiling factory workers that gave way to what is now the modern apartments at the Lofts at Saco Falls at 75 Saco Way.

The sculpture was unveiled at a ceremony earlier this month

“I am honored to bring back a moment, a glimpse of the past, an image of who may have worked here, labored here, laughed here, or just on a sunny day back then stepped out the back door here to enjoy fresh air on a beautiful day in Biddeford,” said DeDecker in the written statement that was read at the ceremony.


The industrial age had its hardships, but it was also an age of prosperity for the country, said DeDecker. Women were proud to work in the mills and contribute to their family’s finances, she said, and young girls were, for the first time, able to make money.

While both parents were grateful to have jobs, it wasn’t easy for young children to be away from their parents, who worked long hours in the mills, she said.

“Children learned about factory labor by watching and then helping their parents put bobbins up on their machines, getting paid a meager wage,” said DeDecker in the written statement. “It was how they survived as a family.”

The strong and beautiful buildings at Saco Falls stand as a testament to their legacy, she said.

“I believe that any setting where people gather requires something that reminds them of community and even metaphorically represents life journeys which we all take,” said DeDaker in the written statement.

Mayor Alan Casavant recalled working one summer at the mills when he was in college, and it was the worst job he had in his life – it was noisy, hot and monotonous. Yet many of his relatives worked their for decades.

“They did that unselfishly on behalf of their families,” he said.

Publisher Liz Gotthelf can be reached at [email protected].