May 10, 2023

New home for iconic ‘People Waiting’ sculptures

Members of the Hooper family are among those posing with one of the "People Waiting" sculptures in its new location in the uptown Saint John pedway. Image: Brad Perry

One of Saint John's most iconic public art pieces has found a new home after extensive restoration work.

The People Waiting sculptures by the late John Hooper have been installed in the uptown pedway.

An official unveiling was held on Monday morning to show off Hooper's sculptures in their new location.

"They’ve been on a long journey. It's really nice to see them finally settled in this space," said his daughter, Tandi Hooper-Clark.

"To find an indoor space for all of these pieces was not an easy task so we’re really happy they’re here. They’ll live on forever."

People Waiting has been part of the public art landscape in Saint John for nearly 50 years.

It was originally commissioned by Canada Post in 1975 and was located at the Rothesay Avenue post office for decades. The sculptures were later donated to the City of Saint John, which put them on display at the foot of King Street.

However, routine maintenance in 2018 found the wooden pieces had sustained extreme weather damage. They have been in storage ever since until restoration work could take place at Hooper Studios in Hampton.

"We knew they needed to be put back on display once restored, but we needed time to find the right location for them," said Kate Wilcott, the city's arts and culture coordinator.

Wood artist Darren Byers worked on the pieces first to prepare them for their new look. He replaced rotten bits, re-carved where necessary and then sanded them to a paintable finish.

The Hooper family then worked to bring the sculptures back to life, with help from local artist Sheryl Crowley. It involved multiple coats of paint, detail work and touch-ups.

Hooper-Clark said they changed the colours slightly on some of the pieces to brighten them up. Some of the pieces also have more detail than they did before.

"We all felt that it was the right look for them," she said. "I think they feel a little brighter inside because of this non-natural light."

But what would John Hooper think of the new space? Hooper-Clark said there is no question he would love it.

"The sculptures were designed to be in a certain configuration, that straight line that people remember them in, but wood only lasts so long, and if they want to live on forever they had to be moved inside," she said.

Sue Hooper said she, too, is excited to see her late father's artwork in this brand-new space.

"My dad really loved people to be very interactive with his pieces — to sit with them, to hug them, to touch them — and here they’ll be safe from the elements," she said.

Hooper is revered as one of Canada's foremost practitioners of wooden art. His art can be found in various locations in and around Greater Saint John, as well as at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, the Pilgrim School in Los Angeles, and the Sinclair Centre in Vancouver.