The bronze, a gift of North Carolina philanthropist Irwin “Ike” Belk, represents the university’s Golden Tiger mascot. As something of a hobby, Belk has donated similarly themed pieces to more than 40 colleges and universities, including the U.S. Air Force Academy’s famous flying falcon and Campbell University’s fighting camel.
Belk’s only stipulation is that the pieces be the largest of their kind in the world.
Cumming, Ga.,-based sculptor Greg Johnson, who has completed about 20 of the sculptures on Belk’s commissions, says he is fairly certain that the Brenau piece is the largest of its kind in the United States, and has a degree of confidence the claim will stand worldwide, too.
The 2,200-pound tiger is 7 feet 6 inches tall and 14 feet long. It was cast by Eagle Bronze, Inc., of Lander, Wyo. The piece finished the last leg of the cross-country journey on a trailer pulled by a heavy-duty pick-up truck so it could be lifted gently with straps and lowered onto a granite base by a crane.
Brenau installed the tiger statue in a small, park-like plaza near the intersection of Academy Street and Green Street, one of Gainesville’s busiest thoroughfares. Before the formal dedication, probably sometime in late summer or early fall, Brenau plans to re-landscape the area to convert it into a new front entrance for the university’s main campus in the historic section of the city.
Melissa Morgan, the director of Brenau’s three art galleries and an expert on public art installations, said such installations have a way of quickly integrating themselves into the fabric of the community.
“They become landmarks and curiosities that people want to have their pictures taken with,” she said. “Public art is very important in preserving and representing a community’s heritage and culture not only because it makes art accessible to the community but also because it encourages an environment of possibility. I think this particular piece in Gainesville will unify the campus and the community even more by becoming a catalyst for creativity, conversation and accessibility.”
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