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Sep 17, 2023

Bangor city councilors and staff dedicated a new piece of public art along the Bangor waterfront on Friday that pays tribute to the Penobscot River and the thousands of years that the Wabanaki people have cared for it.

"Living Water," created by Wabanaki artist and Hudson resident Steven Francis Hooke, was commissioned by the city to not only honor the river and the Wabanaki people, but also to help hide a 24-foot sewage exhaust pipe. The pipe was a necessary but unattractive addition to Bangor's waterfront, after work on the 3.8 million gallon sewage overflow tank was completed in 2022.

Last fall, Hooke created a 16-foot traditional Wabanaki canoe out of steel, and this spring, it was affixed to the pipe. Its nose points upriver, which Hooke says symbolizes the unwritten future. The Penobscot River south of Old Town was not fully navigable by boat until 2013, when the Veazie Dam was removed.

Hooke, 26, is a member of the Mi’kmaq tribe. He grew up in Bangor and attended Bangor High School, and was raised in an artistic family. His grandmother, Carmen Hooke, is an acclaimed traditional Native American craftmaker, selling her creations on the powwow circuit across the country. His mother is a talented seamstress, and his sister, Hannah, studied studio art at the University of Maine in Orono.

"I definitely grew up around creativity," Hooke said. "I definitely absorbed that growing up."

Hooke attended UMaine, where he majored in philosophy. Upon graduating in 2018, however, he found philosophy jobs to be rather hard to come by, so he learned how to weld. Now, he's a full-time welder, recently employed by C&L Aviation, but soon to start work on a major building project at Colby College in Waterville. He also recently completed his welding certificate at Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor.

His thoughtful, creative nature has stayed with him, and in his spare time he would create little metal sculptures just for fun. When the call for artists for the waterfront sculpture commission was sent out early last year, Hooke decided to dream big and go for it.

"I had never made anything on this scale at all," he said. "But I knew I could do it. And I was really attracted to the idea of doing something to represent the river. I wanted to create something really meaningful, that would also allow me to connect with the river myself."

The city's commission on cultural development chose Hooke's submission out of six, and the City Council approved it last summer. Hooke was awarded a $10,000 grant by the city to create the sculpture, utilizing funds donated by sewage tank contractor S.E. MacMillan in an effort to beautify the large exhaust pipe on the waterfront.

The canoe is modeled on a traditional birch bark canoe, with one half of it covered in stainless steel "bark," and the other half showing the skeleton of the canoe frame. The frame of the sculpture is constructed out of carbon steel, which Hooke said will develop a patina over the years, which he intends to represent the pollution that the Penobscot River has suffered.

The sculpture is located behind the Maine Savings Amphitheater, along the waterfront walking path heading toward Hollywood Casino.

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