Arts & Culture

Sir Walter Raleigh statue has worn many hats (and some skirts.) We found out why he gets all dressed up.

Sir Walter Raleigh, a man of many garbs

Sir Walter Raleigh’s statue gets dressed up outside the Raleigh Convention Center all the time for bluegrass week, Hopscotch and other events.
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Sir Walter Raleigh’s statue gets dressed up outside the Raleigh Convention Center all the time for bluegrass week, Hopscotch and other events.

Downtown Raleigh’s iconic Sir Walter Raleigh statue has been transformed into a wide range of personas over the past nine years: musician, jogger, shopper, wildlife enthusiast.

But in the early part of this week, the city’s namesake was dressed as a drop of water.

It’s a drop that’s reminiscent of one of the elves from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” but rendered as a Smurf, accompanied by a spouting fire-hydrant water feature. The water drop, orchestrated to promote an annual water conference, might be the most complicated reimagining yet of one of Raleigh’s quirkier blank canvasses.

“We’ve had a few that are very elaborate,” said Barclay Williams, communication specialist for the Raleigh Convention Center, the building where the statue stands outside.

“There was a wildlife society one with grass and a cardboard cutout of a bear,” Williams said. “The Junior League shopping-spree bag every year is very colorful, too.”


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The convention center sales staff handles scheduling for this bookable space, and it’s available to rent free of charge.

But if you want to dress Sir Walter up, it helps if you’re doing it for an event that draws attendees from out of town.

“We do not charge a rental fee for adorning Sir Walter,” Williams said. “If it’s for something with a hotel-room inventory, that gets priority. From there, it’s based on community interest. If it’s a big group with a citywide component, we’ll work to see if we can accommodate them.”

The Hopscotch Music Festival, the Rolling Stones concert and the Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon all have prompted Sir Walter to get a temporary makeover.


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Sir Walter has been a downtown fixture for more than 40 years. The bronze statue itself, which was made by sculptor Bruno Lucchesi in 1976, stands 11 feet high. Its original spot was just north of the Capitol at Bicentennial Plaza, where Gov. James Holshouser dedicated it in December 1976.

When the Raleigh Convention Center opened in September 2008, Sir Walter was moved to a plaza at the northeastern corner. The statue soon attained iconic status as a photo backdrop, especially when festivals and events began customizing it.

VIDEO: See a time lapse video of artist Bland Hoke's "Banjostand" being assembled around the statue of Sir Walter Raleigh at the Raleigh Convention Center for the 2016 IMBA World of Bluegrass festival. The time lapse video shot from Two Hanover S

One especially elaborate annual ritual is the “Banjostand” stage, a city-funded piece of public art that accompanies the International Bluegrass Music Association’s World of Bluegrass week every fall.

“It’s a fun tool for us,” said Laurie Okun, business development director for the Raleigh Convention Center. “It’s a big attraction for people, that they can dress the statue up. It’s been fun to watch everyone embrace it.”


You better werk

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David Menconi: 919-829-4759, @NCDavidMenconi