Eight Bengal Tigers will be unleashed on the crowd Saturday, May 2, at Fuquay-Varina’s annual Dinner on Depot Street fundraiser.
The Tigers on Parade are statues painted by local artists and sponsored by local business leaders.
But the Fuquay-Varina Downtown Association is keeping the finished pieces of art under as strict a security regimen as one might expect for a real tiger.
After Saturday’s reveal, they will be placed around downtown before going up for auction in September. Half of the proceeds will go to the downtown group while the other half will go to a charity chosen by the sponsor of the tiger.
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Of the eight statues, five will be auctioned off. The other three already have been purchased by the sponsors, for a premium.
It’s the first public art project of its kind in Fuquay-Varina. In 2012, large colorfully painted cows were placed throughout the Triangle. Years before the cows dotted the Triangle, Raleigh organized the Red Wolf Ramble.
Fuquay-Varina’s project already has been such a success, even before it’s revealed, that more tigers will be available for painting and auction next year, said Naomi Riley, director of the downtown association.
“We’ve already had so many people getting excited about it,” she said.
Most of the tigers are themed, with tributes to the area’s natural beauty, school pride and more. Only one has a coat a wild tiger might recognize.
The tigers were chosen because the high school’s mascot is the Bengal. When Fuquay-Varina’s two segregated high schools integrated onto one campus in 1970, Riley said, the students chose the Bengal because of its black and white stripes, symbolizing their hopes for racial harmony.
The tiger sculptures about about half the size of an actual adult tiger, which are typically 3 or 4 feet tall and 9 or 10 feet long.
John Klingler painted the traditional tiger, following up on a design that may look familiar to residents. He painted a mural of a tiger leaping out of the wall of Fuquay-Varina High School’s gym when he was a senior at the school in 1978.
Mayor John Byrne liked that mural and commissioned Klingler to paint one of the tigers in a similar style. There was just one problem.
“I haven’t seen the one I did for the gym in ages, so I don’t even really recall what it looked like,” Klingler said.
Some younger artists found inspiration – and validation – a few feet away from the mural.
Four Fuquay-Varina High School students painted a tiger and dedicated it to Buck Adcock. Adcock was a businessman, deacon and supporter of the high school football team before he died in November of cancer. He was 79. They decorated it with images of symbols meaningful to his life.
The students previously helped their art teacher, Blair Hale, with a downtown art project focused on the town’s founding. They also painted a mural for a downtown business.
“Fuquay makes me want to be part of it,” said Hale, who has taught at the school for five years. “It has so much history and wants to be in touch with its history. I like being involved in town life, and I also like getting the girls out in the art community.”
Hale’s star seniors, Megan Singleton, Taylor Forzaglia, Alyssa Hartzheim and Jasmine Hicks, said they were grateful for the downtown association’s trust.
“It’s hard to be a teenager, and an artist, and be taken seriously,” Hartzheim said.
They said they learned a lot about art, teamwork and compromise.
“It was definitely a challenge, transferring (the design) from paper,” Singleton said. “Because we had to consider it from every angle. We were crawling over tables and going from underneath.”
They weren’t alone in relishing the challenge. Blythe Quinn, a professional artist, said her creativity was forced into overdrive while figuring out how to work around the tiger’s joints and curves.
Quinn, who also painted the town’s Little Free Library boxes, gave her tiger a North Carolina theme featuring the state bird (cardinal), state tree (dogwood), state butterfly (Eastern Tiger Swallowtail) and a powdery blue sky.
“One of the first things I saw when I moved to North Carolina was just how sunny and blue the sky was,” said Quinn, a Rhode Island native who still marvels at the sky abover her adopted home.
“I just truly believe that art is going to bring people downtown and sustain what we already have,” Riley said.
The young painters said they’re especially excited for more chances to find exposure.
“I’ve lived in this town all my life, and until this year, it was hard finding opportunities to be an artist in this town,” said Hicks, one of the 12th-graders. “I would complain to my mom, like, ‘How am I going to get practice? How am I going to apply to art school?’ But she said, ‘Honey, there’s art all over town. Just look.’”
“It’s definitely opened my eyes that it’s possible (to be a professional artist),” Forzaglia said.
Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran
Where will the tigers be?
1. Senter, Stephenson and Johnson, 114 Raleigh St. (up for auction)
2. Mad Hatter, 107 S. Main St. (up for auction)
3. Four Oaks Bank, 325 Judd Parkway (up for auction)
4. Varina Station, 510 E. Broad St. (up for auction)
5. Bob Barker Company, 134 N. Main St. (up for auction)
6. Mineral Spring Inn, 333 S. Main St. (permanent location)
7. Fire Station 1, 301 S. Fuquay Ave. (permanent location)
8. Ashley’s Art, corner of Main and Ennis streets (permanent location)
Those up for auction will be available at the BBQ, Blues & Brew festival in downtown on Saturday, Sept. 26.