Madison residents and visitors are about to start seeing a lot more of Bucky Badger.
While Bucky is a common sight at UW-Madison athletic competitions, ceremonies and other public events, 85 life-size Bucky Badger statues decorated by 64 local and regional artists are about to swarm Madison and Dane County as part of a new public art project.
The 6-foot-tall, approximately 160-pound elaborately decorated fiberglass statues will be displayed for six months starting Monday as part of the “Bucky on Parade” public art project. Area residents and visitors will be able to check out the mascot at locations across Madison and in the cities of Sun Prairie, Monona, Middleton, Fitchburg and Verona.
Whether visiting the state Capitol, Olbrich Botanical Gardens, Vilas Zoo or many of the area’s parks and businesses, it will be hard to miss the UW-Madison mascot’s presence through Sept. 12.
“This is all about the love affair we have and so many people have with Bucky,” said Deb Archer, president and CEO of the Madison Area Sports Commission and the Greater Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau. “There will be Buckys all over Dane County.”
At a preview party at the Wisconsin Field House on Tuesday evening, area residents — and the real Bucky Badger mascot — got a chance to see all 85 of the statues while speaking with artists about their creative interpretations of Bucky.
Fitchburg residents Trish and Manny Figueroa attended the preview party with their children, Maya, 11, and Tao, 8. They said a friend was involved with organizing the project and they were eager to see what the statues would look like.
The family was among the hundreds who browsed the statues, which included Buckys painted in military fatigues in honor of veterans, an ice-fishing Bucky and one painted to look like a hippie. Multiple Buckys had cows painted on them and one, “Lucky Bucky,” was covered with heads-up pennies.
Trish Figueroa said her family will use the Bucky displays as a reason to get out and explore more of Madison this summer, adding that seeing all of the artists’ creative designs was “mind-boggling.”
“Sometimes, when you have lived somewhere for a long time, you forget about all the neat things to see,” she said.
Dozens of approaches
Although many of the designs depicted images important to Madison’s identity — bike trails, the Yahara River chain of lakes, the state Capitol and Union Terrace sunburst chairs — artists Philip Salamone and Sarah Gerg decided to go with a different theme, depicting Bucky Badger’s anatomy.
Their piece, “Visible Bucky,” was a depiction of what Bucky’s bones, tendons, muscles, brain and heart might look like.
“We just wanted to make something that was beautiful and engaging … and would make people pause,” said Salamone, an art teacher with a studio in Madison.
Gerg, one of Salamone’s students, said they wanted to create something that was not what people expected. She said their statue generated a lot of questions and curious looks at the event.
“People are like, ‘Oh, that’s creepy,’” she said.
The duo said they spent a combined 450 hours on the project.
Artist Kathy King, a Monroe High School art teacher, painted a statue with an array of animals — from dogs and cats to geese and a giraffe — for her piece.
Her Bucky, “Animals Need Bucky Too,” was made for the UW-Madison veterinary school and included animals found at Vilas Zoo and those treated at the school.
King said her project took about 190 hours to paint and that she had learned lessons from past public art projects. She said it’s difficult taking a drawing on a flat surface and turning it into a three-dimensional creation.
“After I was done with my day, I would go home and paint,” she said. “That’s what I did in my free time.”
King said all of the other artists’ creations were impressive and that she’s excited to view the other statues around Dane County this summer.
“It will be fun to see them in other places,” she said.
Archer said “Bucky on Parade” was inspired by a similar project with the University of Iowa’s mascot, Herky the Hawk.
It also is similar to the 2006 “Cow Parade,” which featured 101 elaborately decorated fiberglass cows in businesses and community organizations around Madison.
“The wonderful thing about public art is that it is out there for everyone to react to and to enjoy,” said UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank. “It’s difficult to imagine a better way to share our pride in this institution and celebrate the start of a beautiful Wisconsin spring.”
Archer said the project has been an idea for about 12 years. The Madison Area Sports Commission produced the event.
Artists, sponsors and volunteers will unveil the statues at a ceremony at 11 a.m. Monday just off of Capitol Square at 110 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
After the parade project ends, about 30 of the statues will be auctioned off. The other statues will permanently stay with their sponsor.
Proceeds from the auction will benefit the Madison Area Sports Commission and Garding Against Cancer, which supports cancer research.
“Let’s all revel in this all summer long,” Archer said.