By Julia Duvall
The entrance to Western Carolina University’s campus is missing a familiar feline face.
The Catamount statue that long stood in the center of the roundabout is getting a new home on campus to make room for a new Catamount statue, one that reflects the competitive Catamount spirit through a fierce pose and a larger presence at nearly 10-feet tall.
“The current cat has been loved by students, alumni, faculty and staff for many years and we are thrilled that it will be going to a new home on campus,” said Melissa Wargo, WCU chief of staff. “We are asked frequently why there is no statue of our mascot near our athletics venues and why the statue is not located on a fully accessible site. The new location outside the Ramsey Center will remedy those issues and allow for new memories to be made while honoring our long-standing traditions.”
A national call for entry for a new Catamount to be located at the main campus entrance was put out to artists, with more than 80 applications of 3D renderings submitted.
Sculptor Jon Hair, who has spent more than two decades in public art and has created sculptures for 45+ educational institutions, was chosen to commission the new Catamount statue.
Hair was chosen by a committee comprised of members of WCU’s Public Art Committee, staff, alumni and students tasked to select the artist to commission the sculpture. The biggest question the artist had to address was “what exactly is a Catamount?”
“Jon was asked by the committee what he envisioned a Catamount to be and the committee shared their many and varied opinions with him,” Wargo said. “As you might imagine, everyone has a different perspective on this question. He then did extensive research on various big cats and came up with a final rendering that will uniquely represent the WCU Catamount. We are excited about our new Cat at the entrance of campus and believe that it will make a statement when you arrive at WCU.”
As many alumni will say, the Catamount “eyes” billboard coming down US 74 is an icon amongst the Catamount community and a landmark of Jackson County. As a nod to that tradition, the eyes on the new statue will be polished to reflect light, much like the eyes on the billboard do.
“Jon’s work can be seen all over North Carolina with university sculptures as well as wildlife sculptures,” said Greg McPherson, head of the selection committee. “We are excited to have the new Catamount installed this fall and have some restoration work done on our well-loved cat before it is taken to its new home on campus.”