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Web extra: an interview with the wildcat sculptor, Matthew Gray Palmer

Animal Magnetism
Suddenly, there's a new 'Cat on the corner
By Kimberly Swick Slover

They stare up into its feline face. They climb onto its boulder platform to touch its textured bronze fur. They photograph it and want to be photographed with it.

Since October 2006, hundreds if not thousands of students and families, sports fans, alumni and passersby have stopped by to view the new wildcat sculpture on its perch in front of the Whittemore Center. The 850-pound, 6-foot-high representation of the UNH mascot was commissioned by the Alumni Association and purchased with $160,000 in private contributions, including a large gift from the Edward '42H and Selma Bacon Simon '42 Fund. The sculpture stands alert and in permanent motion, one paw raised and prepared to pounce.

On a warm Saturday afternoon in mid-November, Maria and Dennis Bechis from Pennsylvania and their daughter Margarite, a prospective student, stop to contemplate the cat. Maria thinks the sculpture is beautiful. "What an expressive face!" Margarite thinks he looks like Cattytails, their Maine coon cat back home. Dennis disagrees. "Well, maybe a wet Cattytails." Margarite says he should have whiskers. Dennis circles the sculpture and proclaims that from behind, "You get a sense of movement, a sense of its power." Maria sniffs. "It's beautiful, not ferocious."

Margarite pauses for a minute and looks at her parents. "We're really into this," she admits.

The Bechis are not alone. Soon the sculpture, cast in bronze by sculptor Matthew Gray Palmer, is surrounded by three generations of the Wells family. As the youngest generation climbs onto the 15,000-pound base, Sandra Wells '62 of Durham explains that she and her husband, Dr. Otho Wells, professor emeritus, and their daughter Kendra Wells Burke '93, son-in-law and grandchildren are on their way to a UNH women's hockey game.

"It's a beautiful sculpture that adds to the attractiveness of campus," says Otho Wells. "It's a centerpiece for the institution."

A few minutes later, two high school girls hop out of a black SUV and run toward the wildcat, digital cameras in hand. Christina Santos and Sydney Russell, juniors from Newton, Conn., have just finished a campus tour and want photographs of themselves with the mascot before they head home.

"It's strong. It's a bold statement. The wildcat stands for courage," says Russell.

"It's really unique and stands for what UNH is," adds Santos. "It's symbolic of the school and adds a lot of character to the corner."

In short, purrfect.

Web extra: an interview with the wildcat sculptor, Matthew Gray Palmer

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