The Globe and Mail’s Roy MacGregor weighs in on Pipe Man


Huntsville’s controversial floating art installation, Pipe Man, was thrust before national eyes today with a story by Roy MacGregor in The Globe and Mail.

In it, MacGregor likens the public reaction to Pipe Man to that of Voice of Fire, a $1.76-million painting by Barnett Newman purchased by the Canadian government in 1990 for the National Gallery. There are differences, however: Pipe Man sits in a prominent location in the middle of town where it can’t be avoided by those who don’t wish to see it, and it cost taxpayers nothing, save for the staff time dealing with complaints since it was installed.

MacGregor notes the extensive planning that went into the sculpture – from initial concept and commissioning of artist Beverley Hawksley to open discussion at council meetings and gaining permission from Transport Canada for its location in a navigable waterway – with little public outcry prior to its installation.

The calm didn’t last long.

After Pipe Man appeared in the Muskoka River last November, reaction was swift, ranging from the benign and quizzical ‘what is it?’ to harsh criticism of the art work itself, the intent behind it, and those involved in its creation.

The overwhelmingly negative reaction took the donor, Pipefusion owner Jan Nyquist, by surprise. He said that while he can take the criticism – not everyone likes every piece of art, after all – he is disheartened by negative comments directed at Hawksley and Pipefusion staff.

The rude and disrespectful online insults both on Doppler and Facebook have been quite hurtful to members of my staff, the artist and Teri Souter (the Town’s manager of arts culture and heritage) who do not understand the reason for this type of bullying. You can offer your opinion without throwing out mean-spirited comments and low blows, insulting people who bring value to our community in so many ways. We don’t deserve to be publicly abused in the media because some people disagree with decisions made by the council they elected to serve them. It appears that this piece is providing a significant role in remembering and celebrating the legacy of Tom Thomson in this 100th anniversary of the year of his death.
Jan Nyquist, Pipefusion owner and donor of Pipe Man

MacGregor quotes the associate curator of contemporary art at Canada’s National Gallery, Jonathan Shaughnessy, as saying that public art can be a “prickly realm… Sometimes the most obvious, you get it right away and that’s great. But then it languishes in a park for 20 or 30 years and nobody pays any attention to it. What’s there to pique your interest?”

Voice of Fire remains in the National Gallery, more than 20 years after it was hung. Whether Pipe Man will win people over remains to be seen. A survey by the town requesting feedback from residents is open until August 5 – which MacGregor notes is Tom Thomson’s birthday – after which council will make a decision on its fate.

Read The Globe and Mail story here and Doppler’s previous stories on Pipe Man here.

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  1. I don’t understand why Tom Thomson is such a big deal? He wasn’t born here. He didn’t die here. He didn’t paint here and from what I’ve read no one even knows where he’s buried. Also most of the winters I believe he either spent in Toronto at some studio near the ravine or in Sundridge. Honestly, saying nothing about Pipe Man in the river, I was confused when they put the statue in front of the town hall. Why not one of the founding fathers of the town ? I just don’t understand any of it.

  2. Daphne Stones on

    In my opinion, Pipe Man has no artistic appeal and is a navigational hazard. I personally would like to see it removed. To have it in the centre of the beautiful town of Huntsville is unfortunate. Huntsville does not need Tom Thomson statues to thrive as a tourist town.

  3. Helen Detlor on

    Huntsville has taken the opportunity to honour Tom Thomson. I commend them.
    I love the Pipe Man and all it stands for.
    Embrace it Huntsville!

  4. Brita Kraljevic on

    I feel compelled to defend my brother, Jan Nyquist, President of Pipefusion Services, after reading certain negative comments about the sculpture, “Pipe Man,” donated by his company to the town of Huntsville. Jan absolutely loves Huntsville, where he has lived for nearly fifty years, and he is grateful to the town for the quality of life it has given him. He loves Huntsville for all the right reasons. He certainly did not intend “Pipe Man” to be an advertising campaign for his company as has been insinuated by some. On the contrary, the generous donation was intended as his sincere thanks to Huntsville upon the thirty-fifth anniversary of his company.
    On the other hand, whether one appreciates a certain work of art or not is personal and subjective, as everybody knows. Public works of art have always drawn both admiration and criticism. The Eiffel Tower was bitterly reviled when it was built and has evolved into the iconic symbol of Paris. Robert Graham’s aggressively beautiful sculpture of the fist of Joe Louis in downtown Detroit drew a lot of controversy when it was installed. There are thousands of examples.
    I feel I have to comment on this to let people who do not know Jan understand that his motives in this matter come entirely from his generous nature and the appreciation he feels for the lovely place he considers his hometown.

  5. If it was not intended to be advertising then why does it have a logo reference to Pipefusion? Also, there was little opportunity for public input, and the town is by agreement stuck with all further financial responsibility for this Chuck of plastic.

  6. Gayle Stevens on

    It is not the artwork I am complaining about but the position in the middle of the waterway. Why not at the park where children and adults alike can get up close and see the significance of it. I also was driving through on the bridge at dusk and thought it looked creepy which is not the reaction anyone wants. I love Tom Thomson paintings and have 2 prints in my home so not the artist but the position for me.

  7. Betsy Rothwell on

    Art is always in the eye of the beholder. The offensive remarks of those who don’t like it are inappropriate. If we all liked the same art, what a dull world it would be. Public art is wonderful for a community – love this, love that, not so much that, but always stimulating…. The more public art, the better, however the negative comments about this piece may surely inhibit more public art. This piece has been generously donated and is in keeping with the heart of the donor. That’s it… Do better or be quiet.

    • Its funny listening to all the apologists who want to describe any piece of “controversial art” as bold, provocative and/or valuable for stirring up discussion. Unfortunately, it often seems like, between the self-absorption of the arts community and the intimidation of those with some influence on decisions who feel they may be missing something, we often don’t get a realistic assessment of what is good and bad art. We have it here in Victoria and the script goes much the same. The fact is, the people are right – the Pipe Man is an embarrassment.

  8. Peter R. Dirks on

    Muskoka is nature at its best. The art in the water interferes with it being artificial, created by men standing up and can not be seen at night.

  9. We run a BnB, and a visitor from Colorado’s first though at seeing the pipe was that it was a sunken steamer with bird droppings running down the stack. The art piece is really only visible from one angle. I don’t think the problem is the work of art but its location. Find a better spot. I hope Huntsville has a good insurance policy for the first injury caused by this art piece.

  10. Cecilia Branton on

    Well intentioned, but regretfully has created tremendous stress on Town management, the donor, the artist and the community.
    Please actively listen to pleas to re-locate this piece.
    The decision date had been pushed forward way too far. It created polarization. Bullying or threatening financial ‘punishment’ isn’t ‘on’ either. You cannot force people to ‘get used to’ something they have such strong negative feelings about.

  11. With council allowing this stupid situation to appear – I guess we know who not to vote for next election !!!!
    Find a better spot. I hope Huntsville has a good insurance policy for the first injury caused by this art piece.
    The fact is, the people are right – the Pipe Man is an embarrassment. It is not the artwork I am complaining about but the position in the middle of the waterway. Why not at the park where children and adults alike can get up close and see the significance of it?

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