This is Panther country

Formal unveiling of new campus landmark to be held Jan. 10, 2013


Under wraps: Despite a few sneak peeks during the sculpture’s recent installation, the general public will have to wait until the formal unveiling Jan. 10 to see the fearsome new FIU Panther.

Now guarding the U.S. Century Bank Arena on the Modesto A. Maidique Campus: a 2,000-pound felis concolor coryi cast in bronze. Standing about 7.5 feet tall—not including the 18-inch reinforced concrete base on which it rises—FIU’s new Florida panther captures the can-do spirit of the university.

“I feel this really personifies our characteristics,” said junior Armando Botello while watching the sculpture’s installation Dec. 19. “When I see Roary, I think it’s a cute-looking thing. But this is more like the idea of a fighting panther.”

Brandon Marte, also a junior, agreed. “The panther looks fierce,” he said, adding that visiting sports teams might be intimated by it. “It looks like it’s going to kill something.”

Observers noted the animal’s intense musculature and facial features. Both were purposefully exaggerated to create a statue that appears even stronger and more menacing than a real panther might.

“We went through so many phases of design, on the face and the teeth and the growl,” said Larry Lunsford, vice president for Student Affairs, who was part of a team that reviewed designs for approval. With each succeeding graphic rendering, the artist tried to answer collective concerns that “’It’s not fierce enough’ or ‘It’s not scary enough,’” Lunsford explained. “It went on for quite a while.”

And now?

“It’s more spectacular than I thought it would be,” Lunsford said with a wide smile.

He gives credit for the bold campus addition to the Student Government Association (SGA), which came up with the idea and funded the project.

“The students have become more and more loyal to FIU and wanting to create traditions,” Lunsford said. Members of SGA understood the value of landmarks at other campuses and what they mean for students, he explained.

“You walk into most major universities, you see something that represents the institution. So, hopefully, this will be adopted by our community,” Lunsford said. “The athletic teams, maybe they’ll walk by this way and rub the panther, as they do at many other institutions, for good luck.”

The sculpture was created by artist Brian Hanlon and took several months to complete. Hanlon built a full-scale sculpture out of clay in his studio in New Jersey and then sent it to China for use in creating a mold. The mold was later divided into several smaller ones, and from these the pieces of the final work of bronze were cast. All were then welded together and shipped as one solid structure to the Port of Miami.

And just how many men does it take to tame an FIU panther? At least seven—among them a project manager sent to campus by the artist, a crane operator and a member of FIU’s Department of Facilities Management—all of whom were present at the installation. Perhaps with the exception of the crane operator, most guys didn’t have to break a sweat that day.

“I love it,” Alberto Delgado of Facilities Management said. Months ago he oversaw preparation of the heavy-duty base for the statue, but on installation day he mostly stood by to lend support and admire the results. “I think it exceeded our expectations.”

An unveiling ceremony open to the entire FIU community will take place at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 10, in front of the arena.