BANGOR, Maine — The new Penobscot Judicial Center will open Monday with likely hundreds of people wandering in over the course of the week to take a look at the state-of-the-art building with dozens of technological upgrades and modern conveniences.
Yet situated as the building is, near the confluence of the Kenduskeag Stream and Penobscot River, one cannot help but recall the region’s past when examining another aspect of the new building — its art.
The work of three area artists now hanging in the judicial center focuses on the concept of a river, whether depicted as a bucolic body of water, as an economic driver of the region, as it was earlier in the 20th century, or as a metaphor for the law.
A committee of five voting members in December 2008 selected artists Nina Jerome, Jan Owen and Eddie Harrow through the state’s Percent for Art law, which sets aside funds equal to 1 percent of the construction costs for state-funded buildings for purchase of art. The budget for the Judicial Center art projects was $103,430, which includes artists’ fees, installation and other incidental costs.
The committee was made up of George Kinghorn, director of the University of Maine Museum of Art; University of Maine art professor Laurie Hicks; District Court Justice Ann Murray; Maine Supreme Judicial Court Justice Warren Silver; and Josiah Stevenson of Boston-based architectural firm Lees Weinzapfel Associates.
In addition to visual appeal and appropriate subject matter for the space, the committee also considered work that could incorporate the bodies of water that have been so important to the city.
“It was certainly something we discussed, the history and the significance of the river as part of Bangor,” said Kinghorn, who works in the museum building which itself backs on to the Kenduskeag Stream canals that flow through downtown Bangor. “We spent a lot of time on it, and I think you do see that. There’s the history of logging, the river and streams.”
Here’s a sneak preview of the three artists’ work, which is located throughout the building. See it for yourself Monday, when the building opens at 8 a.m.
EDDIE HARROW, “Spring Trial on the West Branch”
Harrow’s bas relief panel, made of basswood, is 2 inches thick and roughly 4 feet by 8 feet. It hangs over the office of Penny Reckards, who is the clerk of courts.
A doctor and resident of Dedham, Harrow wanted to address the judicial center project in a historical context. For inspiration, he looked at old photographs at the Bangor Public Library and took a drive along the legendary Golden Road to look at the Penobscot River’s West Branch.
Harrow had a friend draw up a sketch and then made a few changes to emphasize the mountain, trees and the power of the river. After the sketch was enlarged at Northeast Reprographics and transposed to a piece of basswood that came from Owen Gray & Sons in Brewer, Harrow began to carve.
What emerged was a narrative scene, set along the West Branch, with a forest of pine trees, a small pile of felled trees, workers using peaveys to drive logs into and down the river, and men in a canoe tending to the log drive at the other end of the river. Mount Katahdin looms over the scene.
“Bangor began as a log town and the community developed around the log trade,” he said. “The river is the key to the development of the city, as it was for many cities and society in general.”
NINA JEROME, “Penobscot Intersections”
Jerome, a Bangor resident who teaches at the University of Maine, proposed a series of six triptychs, each about 3 feet by 15 feet, in oil on linen, two of which have been installed. Jerome will work on the remaining four with the goal of completing them in the next two years. The paintings hang above the courtroom entrances on the second and third floors.
Over the years, Jerome has painted the river many times but the challenge with her “Intersections” was the unusual installation space.
“I wanted to create a sense of space and movement through this very horizontal, rectangular space of the area above doorways,” she said. “To design a landscape that moves through three panels, side to side in a continuous way, is a good visual problem.”
The two that are finished, “Kenduskeag Connection” and “Greenbush Riverbend,” each show a river in a different way — the former is a view of the stream as it rambles through downtown Bangor, the latter a more rural setting of the Penobscot. Jerome’s goal was to illustrate the ways in which the Penobscot and Kenduskeag intersect with the land in both rural and urban settings.
For Jerome, the tidal characteristic of the river is directly related to the building in which the paintings will hang.
“I really love the way the tide comes in, goes out, comes in [and] that opposition that’s working in the courthouse, a system of people playing with opposing ideas,” she said.
JAN OWEN, Untitled
Owen, a former Bangor resident now living in Belfast, created four calligraphy works, three at 30 inches by 40 inches and a fourth at 40 inches by 60 inches, depicting phrases from the Maine and U.S. constitutions, Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights. The concept was similar to a Percent for Art project Owen did a few years ago for the Knox County Courthouse in Rockland.
It was Silver who suggested to Owen she use words from the Maine Constitution for the larger piece, and they came up with Article 1, Section 1.
“It’s just so beautiful, and he was excited to have those words big,” Owen said.
Owen used white paper with a mixture of paste paper made from cooked flour and water with acrylic, which dries flat so Owen can write on it. The stars in the background are gold-painted Tyvek, which she folded and creased to add dimension and light.
So where does the river theme come in? Owen didn’t want it to be obvious, but it’s there.
“The woven stars are obviously a reference to the [American] flag, and all the other artwork refers to rivers, so this has a river of stars to tie it in, without painting a river,” she said. “I didn’t want to confuse too many metaphors. The words are important.”