Dustin Tribou poses with a fiberglass sturgeon June 28 at his business, Saylorink Tattoo in Augusta. The tattoo artist said it will be covered with about 60 tattoo designs by the time he is finished. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — When Dustin Tribou signed on to paint a fiberglass sturgeon earlier this year, the art project was important to him.

Growing up in the Augusta area, Tribou recognized that the state’s capital city was not considered a desirable location, especially its downtown.

“But now it’s becoming a place where people want to be,” he said.

And he’s one them. Tribou opened Saylorink Tattoo Studio on Water Street last spring after seven years in other locations in the city. Even before he took up tattooing he was an artist, and he continues to paint and do graphic design in addition to his business.

On Friday, Tribou’s sturgeon was one of 25 to be installed by volunteers on Water Street as part of an arts initiative of the Augusta Downtown Alliance ahead of Saturday’s planned Sturgeon Stroll Art Walk.

“We’re excited. It’s going to bring a big splash of color to the street,” Michael Hall, executive director of the Augusta Downtown Alliance, said Friday.


The Augusta Downtown Alliance was one of 25 organizations to secure a $50,000 placemaking grant from T-Mobile in the first year of a five-year program. Working with Main Street America and Smart Growth America, two organizations focused on building strong and prosperous small communities, T-Mobile has committed $25 million to community development projects.

Choosing sturgeon as an art installation was a way to link Water Street to the Kennebec River that flows only yards away. The sturgeon were made by the Fiberglass Farm in Belfast.

Sturgeon are an annual draw to the Kennebec, which has some of the best habitat for the ancient species in Maine and is home to both the endangered shortnose sturgeon and the Atlantic sturgeon, whose population is considered depleted.

Every year, from late spring to summer, Atlantic sturgeon can be seen launching themselves into the air and belly-flopping on the river. No one is sure why.

The fiberglass sturgeon, bearing the design of the artists and organizations chosen to take part, will be installed to make it appear they are leaping, too. The artists were given stipends of $200 each to do what they wished.

“My supplies cost about 10 bucks,” Tribou said. “I’m going on the cheaper side of things.”


Dustin Tribou draws a panther on a fiberglass sturgeon June 28 at his business, Saylorink Tattoo in Augusta. Tribou said that he was decorating it to look like a practice skin used by apprentices as they learn the art of tattooing. This sturgeon and others will be displayed in downtown Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

In choosing what he would do, Tribou considered not only the fish, but the time he would be able to put into the project, given the demand for his shop’s services.

“I wanted to keep it very tattoo-themed,” he said in late June, sitting in the reception area of Saylorink, where he was working on his sturgeon after hours.

In the world of tattooing, a rite of passage is tattooing a practice skin to get used to using the machine. He decided to treat the fish like a practice skin, painting it a light flesh tone and drawing on it the kinds of tattoos an apprentice might do to build skills.

“The designs have no meaning to them at all,” he said. “They are small, simple designs that when people look at them, they definitely think, ‘tattoo.’ I mean, most people, I guess?”

Dustin Tribou draws a panther on a fiberglass sturgeon June 28 at his business, Saylorink Tattoo in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

He’s had the opportunity to see sturgeon up close in the time he’s spent on boats on the Kennebec River.

“I’ve had them jump within inches of the boat,” he said. “It’s pretty terrifying.”


The Augusta Teen Center also signed on to do a sturgeon that’s expected to be installed outside its new home at 244 Water St.

This sturgeon, designed and made by teens at the Augusta Teen Center, highlights the importance of words. Contributed photo

The design of its fish was the result of hours of planning by the teens. The result is a portrayal of being a positive role model and an inspiration.

“I believe in this world many people do not understand how their world can impact others,” wrote Jazmine Alley, one of the teen leaders on the project, in explaining their approach. “We just want others to know that their words matter, that they have a voice, and hopefully we can inspire others to use their words to trigger positive change for everyone in our community.”

Ashley Healey, assistant director of the Augusta Teen Center, said the group used donated Kennebec Journals to cover the fiberglass form and used significant words and phrases to highlight their importance.

“It was a large collaboration of kids having different input,” Healey said. “It was cool to let them debate about the ideas.”

Hall said he’s hoping a lot of people will be able to see them in the three months they will be on display. The sturgeon are expected to remain in place until the weather starts to turn cold, when they will be stored for the winter. They are expected to come out of hibernation by around Memorial Day weekend next year.

The sturgeon are expected to be on display for two years. They are then to be auctioned off, with the proceeds dedicated to future art projects in downtown Augusta.

“We’re very excited about the response we have received both from the arts community as well as the general public,” he said.

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