From left, Maegan Graslie of Ellsworth, Liz Cutler of Castine, Gloria Kunje of Northeast Harbor, Cynthia Kearns of Mariaville and Patrisha McLean prepare to hang a banner in the Riverside Café on Oct. 15. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY ANNE BERLEANT

Banners shine light on domestic abuse

ELLSWORTH — On Friday, Oct. 15, a group of women ranging from college age to many decades older sat around an outside table at Flexit Café plotting their route.

The women, mostly but not all University of Maine at Augusta students, were in Ellsworth to affix banners in shop windows to raise awareness about domestic violence.

“Finding Our Voices” is a show of 40 photographs of women who have managed to break free from abusive relationships, who speak of their experience in their own words, writing out plainly for all to read.

“This is an idea whose time has come,” said founder and Camden resident Patrisha McLean. “Putting a face to this issue, a name and a voice, resonates.”

Started by McLean in 2019 as a gallery exhibition, “Finding Our Voices” showed near life-size photographs with words inscribed by the women pictured and audio recordings so viewers could hear the words in the women’s own voices. The exhibit spent four months at the Maine Holocaust and Human Rights Center and traveled through southern and mid-Maine towns.

“Then COVID hit,” McLean recalled. “That’s when we pivoted to the banner portraits.”

Smaller in size but not in effect, the banners show women of all ages photographed by McLean, a professional photographer. They hang in the windows of Flexit, Acadia Law Offices, Coastal Interiors and other local shops. In fact, it was Lori Chase at Coastal Interiors, who saw a television news segment on the banners and got in touch with McLean, who started the display locally last year.

“She said, ‘This needs to come to Ellsworth,’” McLean recalled.

What shocked McLean in 2021, with stores reopened, was the owners’ willingness to give up a good percentage of their front windows for the banners — and to leave them hanging far longer than the two months McLean requested.

McLean and her cohorts have hung the banners in 40 towns to date, and smaller-sized ones in high schools and hospitals.

“People from all over the state, people are saying, ‘Send them to me,’” she said.

COVID-19 helped the project, McLean thinks.

“COVID took it to another level, just because there was a little more talk about domestic violence spikes and more sensibilities around that,” she said.

“I was always told by my ex that I was incompetent, that everything was his world, and I wasn’t worth anything, I didn’t have any value, I wasn’t worth listening to and nothing I said had any value,” she continued. “For the women who are in it, you’re not alone. There’s help out there, and the first step is to say something to someone. That’s the message we’re giving. And it’s a message to everybody that [domestic abuse] is everywhere and it happens to everyone. [The banners] debunk dangerous stereotypes.”

Finding Our Voices is funded through donations and grants, some local and some national.

Visit for more information or email [email protected].

Anne Berleant

Anne Berleant

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Anne Berleant covers news and features in Ellsworth, Mariaville, Otis, Amherst, Aurora, Great Pond and Osborn. When not reporting, find her hiking local trails, reading or watching professional tennis. Email her at [email protected]
Anne Berleant

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