BATH, Maine — Six flags were raised Saturday morning over the 120-foot-tall steel sculpture of the schooner Wyoming as Maine Maritime Museum celebrated the final phase of the $2.4 million project.
Bath-born sculptor Andreas Von Huene hopes the dozens of people who turned on under the day’s sunny skies weren’t seeing with just their eyes.
“Your imagination is the strongest tool I have in my artist’s toolbox,” Von Huene said Thursday. So, taking into account the light off the sparkling Kennebec River and other features of the site offered by the museum, Von Huene and architect and artist Joe Hemes designed the sculpture — a vast steel skeleton of a bow and stern, separated by tall white masts — “to indicate the ship,” Von Heune said, rather than building a replica of it.
The Wyoming, the largest wooden sailing ship ever built in the United States, was constructed in 1909 on the site of the Percy & Small Shipyard, where the original ship was built, according to the museum. The schooner was one of seven 6-mast sailing ships built by Percy & Small to transport coal from mid-Atlantic ports to the northeast and New England.
On Saturday, cannon fire echoed throughout the historic shipyard to mark the ceremonial first raising of the Wyoming’s banners and flags.
Van Heune and Hemes worked with a team of structural and electrical engineers, landscape architects, wooden ship designers and computer drafting experts to design the piece, which Van Heune said was inspired by architect Robert Venturi’s painted steel sculpture of Benjamin Franklin’s house in Philadelphia. He thought the open design would take advantage of the riverfront site.
“The beautiful trees on the property and the light off the river are too precious to ignore,” he said. “If I were to build a real ship, it would block the view of the river. The keel alone is 11 feet tall, and [even] just the keel would block the beautiful site. [With this design], you can see north, south, east and west across the river. That’s an important feature for an outdoor exhibit site.”
The masts, he said, “make this come alive, because they move a little bit in the wind, and the flags move a bit, the ropes move a bit, the stern section rocks a bit in the breeze, and it’s like being in a yacht basin. All of a sudden, all these aspects of seagoing life are added to an otherwise static sculpture.”
Debbie and Larry Walsh of Wells watched Saturday’s ceremony with admiration for the shipbuilding heritage of the city, which Larry Walsh said is represented in the Wyoming sculpture.
“It’s amazing, the immense size of a wooden vessel being built, and that they’ve been building vessels for such a long time,” he said, nodding toward Bath Iron Works just up the river. “And how they could have carried on in such a wonderful fashion.”
The lifesize bow and stern sections of the ship, completed in 2006, spans nearly 450 feet in length and six stories tall. It drew hundreds of thousands of visitors even before the masts were raised in recent weeks.
Amy Lent, executive director of the museum, called the completion of the sculpture “a transformative event” for the museum, which this year celebrates its 50th anniversary.
The sculpture itself was dedicated to former museum board trustee and donor George Twombly.
The sculpture, said Lent, “really transforms the historical site and creates a sense of history that didn’t really exist before. The buildings were here, and we knew big ships were built in these buildings, but having that example right there in its monumental scale really brings back what was happening not only here, but all over the coast of Maine.”