A city art panel unanimously endorsed a proposed sculpture to be erected near a soon-to-be built traffic rotary in Portland, but members showed less enthusiasm for adding a sculpted squirrel to a monument to a rare South American hawk that took up residence in Deering Oaks last year.

Mark Pettegrow says his sculpture “will have a presence and be visible from a distance” from a new traffic rotary in Portland. Rendering courtesy Mark Pettegrow

Portland’s Public Art Committee is recommending that Mark Pettegrow, who has studios in Kennebunkport and Pennsylvania, be hired by the city to create a piece he is calling “Passing the Torch” on a roundabout to be built at the intersection of Brighton and Deering avenues and Falmouth Street, near the Portland campuses of the University of Southern Maine and the University of Maine School of Law.

The proposal still must be approved by the Portland City Council before Pettegrow can start building the piece, which would depict two bronze flames rising from torches attached to a weathered steel base. The installation, which will be highly visible, will also have to be landscaped and equipped with lighting. City officials said the project will cost about $75,000.

“This will have a presence and be visible from a distance,” Pettegrow told the art committee. “The concept is passing the torch, passing on our accomplishments to the next generation.”

His proposal was selected from a field of four artists. The Maine Department of Transportation will design the roundabout,  which will be built in 2020. Roundabouts are circular, one-way streets that move traffic through intersections while eliminating the need for traffic lights. It will be the city’s first.

A spokesperson for the University of Southern Maine praised the choice of artist and the design.

“The roundabout is a critical project for USM. It will create a gateway to the Portland campus. We are thrilled with the selection of Mark,” said Nancy Griffin, USM’s chief operating officer. Griffin noted that Pettegrow is a University of Maine alumnus.

The great black hawk perches in a tree in Deering Oaks on Nov. 29. The bird, native to Central and South America and the only one ever reported in Maine, became an attraction at the park before it succumbed to frostbite in January. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

While Pettegrow’s proposal produced generally favorable reviews at Wednesday evening’s meeting, another proposed art project at Deering Oaks park received mixed reviews.

Anne Pringle, president of the Friends of Deering Oaks, asked the art committee to accept a life-size bronze sculpture of the great black hawk into the city’s public art collection. The committee voted unanimously to accept the sculpture by David Smus, but indicated that the idea of attaching a squirrel to the piece might need to be reconsidered.

The hawk flew to Maine in 2018 from its native South America, making an improbable journey that attracted the attention of birders from across the country and world. The hawk – the only one ever reported in Maine – was euthanized in January. It was mounted by a taxidermist and will be displayed at the Maine State Museum.

Pringle and Smus, who works out of a studio in Harmony, said the great black hawk survived by preying on squirrels at Deering Oaks during its stay there last fall and winter. They said placing a climbing squirrel about five feet up from the base of the 9-foot-tall granite cone supporting the hawk would not only help to educate school children, but would further add to the sculpture’s unique qualities.

The sculpture would be installed near the head of the ravine and reflecting pool at Deering Oaks.

Lin Linsberger, vice chairwoman of the art committee, asked why adding a squirrel to the sculpture would be necessary. She also expressed concern about people vandalizing the squirrel or using it as a step to scale the monument.

“When we bring a squirrel into it, we are telling a different story,” Linsberger said. “It’s just a lot different than memorializing the bird.”

“There are so many questions about why this hawk was here in the first place, and the squirrel provides one answer,” said Diane Davison of Portland, a bird rescue volunteer. Davison helped deliver the injured hawk to Avian Haven in Freedom after it was found lying on snow-covered ground in January. The hawk, which was suffering from frostbite, eventually had to be euthanized.

“We’re doing this because of the kids. I’m telling you now it (the squirrel) is going to be dynamite if we do it,” Smus predicted.

The art committee voted to accept the sculpture into its art collection, a recommendation that will still need final approval from the city council.

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