Belfast’s newest art fixture is a whopping 34-foot mural on the waterfront featuring an Atlantic sturgeon as its centerpiece.
Artist David Hurley had been toying with the idea for a few months at the end of last year but had not decided on a final location. When he took a look at the large, empty space below the deck of the Bayview Point Event CenterFront Street, he figured it would be a great place.
Hurley has previously worked on a number of large murals adorning buildings in the area, but this piece stands out both for its size and its location right along the water, where Hurley said he hopes it’ll catch the eye of passersby heading along the Belfast Harbor Walk.
“A lot of art gets sequestered in galleries and museums, and not everybody goes to those places,” Hurley said. “[This mural] reaches out to a larger audience.”
The inspiration behind the piece came from Hurley’s interest in the Passagassawakeag River, which opens up into Belfast Harbor. The river’s name, he learned, originates from an Indigenous word and translates to “spearing sturgeon by torchlight,” Hurley said.
The cultural significance of the river and the fish to native communities was a key inspiration for the final design, Hurley said, and he consulted with Penobscot Nation historian James Francis while working on the piece. He also contacted researchers at the University of Maine about the long history of the prehistoric species, whose ancestors predated dinosaurs.
They’re also huge. The sturgeon in the mural is 18 feet long, which is only a few feet longer than the largest size the fish can grow, Hurley said.
Hurley pitched the idea for the mural to the event center’s owner, Paul Naron, early this year. When the owner told Hurley he wasn’t ready to fund a commission for the piece, Hurley decided to take things into his own hands.
He started fundraising in February and raised around $10,000 in donations, both in cash and in supplies including the wood paneling and paints provided by local businesses, he said. He started painting the piece on May 17, and it was completed and installed in early July.
“It’s the largest piece of public art on the Belfast waterfront,” Hurley said.
There will be a dedication ceremony for the mural at the Bayview Point Event Center on Aug. 16 at 6:30 p.m. The event will include a presentation on sturgeon by University of Maine professor of marine sciences Gayle Zydlewski, who Hurley consulted for more background on the sturgeon’s historical presence in the region. There will also be musical performances from members of the Burnurwurbskek Singers, an indigenous drumming and singing group, as well as other performances from local musicians.
In autumn, Hurley plans to install an information panel alongside the mural with information gathered from researchers as well as indigenous historians about the Atlantic sturgeon’s history in the area and connection to Native American communities.