December 18, 2017
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Babe the Blue Ox to get second shot with Bangor cultural panel

By Evan Belanger, BDN Staff
Updated:

BANGOR, Maine — A proposal to add Babe the Blue Ox to Bangor’s 31-foot-tall statue of Paul Bunyan is headed back to the city’s Commission on Cultural Development.

Looking for city support, an ad hoc group of citizens calling themselves Build Babe in Bangor approached the City Council’s Government Operations Committee on Monday with details of planned fundraising campaign for the statue.

“I think this would be a terrific opportunity to help people understand why Paul is intimately connected to Bangor and also, of course, (to) highlight Bangor’s wonderful forestry and agricultural heritage,” said Jay Martin Jr., son of J. Normand Martin, who designed the Bunyan statue erected in 1959 and is designing the clay model of Babe.

While some councilors pushed for the full council to endorse the concept of the project as soon as possible, the committee accepted the advice of staff and allowed the proposal to go back to the cultural commission, which will review the proposal and make a recommendation to the committee.

“There are a number of steps that groups like the cultural commission would go through to make sure that all the T’s are crossed and all the I’s are dotted,” said Councilor Josh Plourde, the council representative to the commission. “That doesn’t mean that it won’t get endorsed.

“I adamantly push that we let the culture commission do what we’ve empowered them and asked them to do for years now,” he said, asking that the group submit renderings of the proposed statue to the commission, particularly the rear view as seen from the Cross Insurance Center.

Meanwhile, Councilors Joe Baldacci and Patricia Blanchette along with Councilor David Nealley, who is not a member of the committee, argued in favor of the council moving to approve the concept of Babe in order to assist with the group’s private fundraising efforts.

“These individuals are coming forward as private citizens who are doing us a service in raising a lot of money for our city, so we need to recognize that and to assist them in getting that done, so I don’t want to see us put up hindrances to them getting that done,” Baldacci said.

According to Blanchette, the city has never had to put money into maintaining the Bunyan statue because volunteers have historically raised those funds and volunteered their time.

“It’s a matter of city pride,” she said. “I don’t want anybody in Minnesota telling me where Paul Bunyan was born.”

That comment came after the Bemidji Pioneer in Bemidji, Minnesota, responded to Bangor’s initial Babe proposal in February, claiming Bemidji was the real birthplace of Bunyan, an American folklore hero.

Members of Build Babe in Bangor said they expect J. Normand Martin, 89, to complete his clay model of Babe in July or possibly as late as August.

“My father is a perfectionist, quite frankly. He’s not going to present anything unless it’s exactly right,” said Jay Martin Jr.

They also said that they’ve already received contributions for the clay model, but they will not begin fundraising for the statue itself until they have city approval.

The group also proposed selling Bunyan and Babe merchandise to raise funds for the statue, including a republished book, “The Wonderful Adventures of Paul Bunyan.” Published in 1945 by Heritage Press, the book served as the inspiration for Bangor erecting the Bunyan statue to help celebrate the city’s 125th anniversary.

“Some of the old people say he was born in Maine,” reads the book’s first line.

J. Normand Martin said they cannot get estimates on the total cost of the statue until he finishes the model.

“I’m an artist by trade and love challenges,” he said. “That’s always been the story of my life. Give me a challenge, and I fight.”

It remains unclear whether the group will ask the city to contribute to the project. Jay Martin Jr. said the statue would be paid for entirely with private contributions.

However, a concept outline submitted to the committee proposed that Bangor Public Works build the base. The committee did not discuss that, and the matter remains open to negotiation.

The group proposed unveiling the finished statue on July 4, 2016.

Downtown Coordinator Caitlin Brook, who serves as the city’s liaison to the cultural commission, said Babe would be on the commission’s July 9 meeting agenda per the committee’s instructions.

There is no policy on public art and monuments, she said, but the commission is developing one that may be approved during the same meeting.

J. Normand Martin and former City Councilor Gerry Palmer presented the original Babe proposal to the commission in February, seeking a $1,000 grant for Martin to create a clay sculpture of Babe.

They later amended their grant application to $550, but the commission would only consider recommending the City Council appropriate $160 for materials. That motion failed in a 4-4 vote.

In July, the commission will not consider a grant, but whether the city should approve the project on public land.

J. Normand Martin, who was an artist and partner at the Tom Kane Advertising Agency in Hampden at the time, took two weeks to craft the original clay model of Paul Bunyan.

He said Monday he plans to make Babe look friendly with “a smile on his face.” He also said the ox would not be anatomically correct, addressing an issue he raised previously.

Follow Evan Belanger on Twitter at @evanbelanger.


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