Adorning the Cat

So, this is how a tradtion begins.

There’s something about a statue that tempts irreverence, practically begs you to mess with the stone-faced straight man. Maybe it is the object’s very reverence, the solemnity of granite or bronze, the unblinking eyes. Or maybe it is just the easy target posed by a victim bolted to a pedestal. Put a statue on a college campus, where youth, a sense of fun, and a healthy iconoclasm are in the air, and, well, you’re asking for it.

Thanks to the Class of 1998, there is a new statue on campus, a catamount sculpture that prowls the wilds between Royall Tyler Theatre and the University Store. Class leaders settled upon this gift in the hope that it would reinforce a sense of pride and tradition at the university. It has done that, but maybe not in the way the Class of 1998 might have imagined. The cat statue, like any work of art, is defined by what the audience brings to it.

And the audience has brought plenty, making the cat one of the most decorated members of the campus community. Art student Doug Bair started things off with his Catamount Cowboy, a life-size rodeo rider made of papier-mâché burnished with bronze shoe polish. The buzz circulated quickly around campus. Walk-by art critics paused and pronounced it good.

In February, an anonymous artist or artists working in the icicle medium transformed the catamount into a sort of dinosaur or neopunk feline with a row of mohawk spikes, depending on your perspective. It begged closer examination to see how the icicles were attached flawlessly along the spine. An interdisciplinary collaboration between art and engineering?

There’s been a gentleness and humor to these decorations, craft and cleverness that is a far cry from vandalism. You sense a certain caring in the adornment, the impulse springing from the same place that inspires a child to tie a kerchief on the house cat.

Thanks to the Class of 1998, Doug Bair, the icicle artist(s), whoever put that ribbon collar and birdseed bell around the cat’s neck at Christmas, and all future embellishers of the cat. VQ