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WCU unleashes a bigger, meaner, more ferocious Catamount

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WCU's new Catamount was installed Tuesday, Oct. 17, at the roundabout in front of H.F. Robinson Administration Building. The new cat is 8-feet tall and weighs 1,200 pounds.

By Marlon W. Morgan

There’s a new cat on the prowl and he’s waiting to greet all who enter Western Carolina University’s campus.

A new, fierce-looking bronze Catamount statue sits in the middle of the roundabout in front of WCU’s H.F. Robinson Administration Building. It was installed early Tuesday, Oct. 17, by members of the university’s Facilities Management team and sculptor Jon Hair, who was commissioned by WCU’s Public Art Committee.

As the Catamount was being prepped for its new home, Hair took a moment to reflect on his work. It was his 70th sculpture in North Carolina and his 20th college mascot that he has done.

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Sculptor Jon Hair poses with his latest work, WCU's new Catamount statue.

“I love working for colleges,” Hair said. “I like the mascots because they’re more fun. You want to make them intimidating and give them that “don’t mess with me” look. I recommend when your visiting teams come in, you get a jersey, you shred it and you hang it on that claw. When they drive in, that’ll tell them what’s going to happen later.”

The new Catamount stands 8-feet tall, perched on a rock that features the Cherokee syllabary character “wi” which denotes a geographic location. Its right paw is in a swiping motion, showing its ferocious claws. It is made of silicon bronze and weighs 1,200 pounds. Its eyes are made of high-polished gold.

“When people pull in here and their headlights hit them, it’s going to light up,” Hair said.

The installation was the culmination of a project that took about two years to complete. And it comes just in time for Saturday’s football game at E.J. Whitmire Stadium which will be a battle for first place in the Southern Conference between WCU and Furman.

“I think it’s kind of exceeded our expectations,” said Denise Drury Homewood, chair of the Public Art Committee. “It’s hard to put your head around the scale of what it’s going to look like until it’s here, hanging from a crane, dangling right in front of you. I’m really impressed by the scale, and the claws in particular. Those are really fierce.

“I’m also really pleased that everyone’s input made it what it is today. The artist, Jon Hair, heard from everyone on the selection committee and that was great to have everyone’s input on the design, what it looked like, even the stance of the Catamount.”

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Hair was chosen from among 80 national applicants that submitted 3D renderings. Hair has created more than 150 public art sculptures in the last 23 years, including work at more than 45 educational institutions.

He was selected by a committee comprised of WCU’s Public Art Committee, staff, alumni and students.

“I was really confident in the professionalism of Jon,” said Greg McPherson, chair of the selection committee. “He’s done this a lot. I think the committee liked that he had experience with mascots and that this scale of bronze is something everybody had in the mind.”

McPherson added that it was important to get buy in from the Cherokee to include the “wi” symbol. “We want to remind everybody that this is Cherokee land,” he said.

Last month, the old cat statue found its new home near Ramsey Regional Activity Center, giving WCU two Catamounts to display.


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WCU's original Catamount statue was moved to Ramsey Regional Activity Center in September.

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