Joe "Hugga" Dana paddles a traditional birch bark canoe as crews work on the ceremonial breaching of the Veazie Dam on the Penobscot River in 2013. A Wabanaki artist will create a 16-foot steel canoe sculpture to be installed on the Bangor waterfront later this year. Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

The city of Bangor has chosen a Wabanaki artist to create a piece of public art to cover up an exhaust pipe that’s part of the recently completed 3.8 million-gallon sewage overflow tank project on the waterfront.

Steven Francis Hooke, an artist, welder, fabricator and member of the Mik’maq tribe, was chosen by Bangor’s commission on cultural development for the project, and the City Council’s business and economic development committee approved the choice Monday night.

Hooke intends to create a 16-foot Wabanaki-style canoe out of steel, which will be affixed to a standalone, above-ground, 24-foot-tall stack and exhaust pipe, which allows for the release of gasses that might accumulate in the tank below. The city will award Hooke a $10,000 grant for the creation of the sculpture.

Hooke, who grew up in Bangor and now lives in Hudson, said in his proposal for the project that he hoped his traditional Wabanaki-style canoe would represent the ways in which people connect with the Penobscot River. When completed, the canoe will be affixed to the stack horizontally and its nose will point upstream, which Hooke said would represent the unwritten future. The Penobscot River south of Old Town was not fully navigable by boat until 2013, when the Veazie Dam was removed.

“The adherence to the stylings of the birch bark canoes made by the Wabanaki people is done with aims to represent the history of human communion with the river,” Hooke said.

Hooke is the grandson of acclaimed Mik’maq artist Carmen Hooke, who for decades has created and sold Native American art in Florida. Hooke is also a professional welder and fabricator. He estimated the entire project would take about seven weeks to create, and that the canoe would be installed on the waterfront sometime in the fall.

Originally, the stack and exhaust pipe were supposed to be attached to a nearby maintenance building, until contractor S.E. MacMillian realized that would not be possible given site constraints — a change that went against the contract the firm had with the city and resulted in a fairly unattractive piece of industrial infrastructure looming over the waterfront.

As a compromise, company president Stan MacMillan offered to donate $10,000 to the city to transform the stack and pipe into an original piece of sculptural public art. The city received six proposals for the work, and earlier this month, the cultural commission unanimously agreed on Hooke’s proposal — not just because of the opportunity to showcase a Wabanaki artist but also because of the scale of Hooke’s proposed sculpture.

“The commission felt that this piece stood out from other submissions for its scale, making it visible from a distance and something that would encourage people to walk down to the stack from the more trafficked end of the waterfront,” Tanya Emery, the city’s community and economic development director, said in a memo about the sculpture.

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Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.