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November 17, 2023

Starry night, indeed: A stunning new piece of public art adorns Madawaska land port

A new work of art adorns a new land port of entry in Madawaska — and the giant sculpture has a vibe that befits both the location and the holiday season.

The work is a 35-foot-tall, lighted, five-pointed star, fabricated by Massachusetts artist Ralph Helmick and commissioned by the U.S. General Services Administration.

Among other duties, the GSA manages federal buildings and infrastructure, and recently finished constructing a $50 million border crossing station between Madawaska and New Brunswick, Canada. The new land port of entry, on 10.7 acres, replaces a facility that dated to 1959. The artwork for the project was funded through the GSA's Art in Architecture Program.

Titled "Stella" — the Latin word for star — the sculpture takes its design from the icon commonly painted on the sides of barns and homes throughout Aroostook County. The single star is a symbol of Acadian culture, and was included in Maine’s original state flag of 1901.

The unusual beacon can be seen from a distance by visitors entering Madawaska. At the same time, the GSA said in a news release, the artwork’s design adheres to the International Dark Sky Association's standards so that the light does not adversely affect the environment or the neighborhood.

Since creating his first civic artwork in 1984, Helmick has created over 50 public commissions across the U.S. and abroad. Nearly all of Helmick's projects, his website says, "speak to the intersection of art and science."

In addition to earning an M.F.A. in sculpture from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Helmick attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine.

The GSA AiA Program oversees the commissioning of artworks for new federal facilities nationwide. Through the AiA program, GSA reserves 0.5% of the estimated construction cost of each building to commission project artists.

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