Many students past and present at UW-Madison have one thing in common besides their alma mater: their love of Bucky Badger.
And so it’s only fitting that the long-awaited Alumni Park, opening Friday, honoring the achievements of more than 120 alumni, features a statue titled “Well Red” of the university’s iconic mascot. But Bucky isn’t enthusiastically cheering or rallying crowds of adoring fans, he is thinking of what the future holds from atop a stack of books.
He sits on a throne of knowledge. His unknown future is representative of current and future UW-Madison students in a place dedicated to those who once called the campus their home.
That was why when Douwe Blumberg, the artist behind the “America’s Response Monument” which resides in front of One World Trade Center, was hired to sculpt the famous badger’s likeness he knew he needed to give him universal appeal.
“I didn’t want to do a college mascot going ‘rah-rah’ at a ballgame,” he said.
Blumberg wanted an artistic Bucky. A Bucky that, decades from now, would still gleam in the eyes of anyone who looked upon him.
He wanted a statue that would represent the campus’ Badgers of all walks of life.
So the artist set out to create something he had never done before—a bronze, steel and stained glass Bucky. Something fun and light for an artist who has spent the last five years working mostly on memorial pieces.
A nod to the original Statue of Liberty’s torch, which was stained glass and lit up from the inside, Blumberg wanted to give the same treatment to Bucky, to give the campus community something to admire even at night.
Making the sculpture captivating at night is what will set it apart from statues that might not otherwise excite a campus community plus it’s “nighttime for half of the year” so the art should be something people can enjoy no matter what time it is, he said.
“How do we engage young people?” Blumberg said. “This whole place is mostly young people. It had to be cutting edge and light and different. If it’s just Bucky in bronze people will look at it and then walk away, but this treatment will change that. It will resonate more with a generation that is used to things being cutting edge and being illuminated and sharp and forward looking.”
Blumberg’s Bucky is a one of a kind art piece set among many other unique pieces reflecting the university’s past, Paula Bonner, president emerita of Wisconsin Alumni Association (WAA), said.
Alumni Park is full of unique pieces including exhibits focused on themes of the Wisconsin Idea including service, discovery and tradition. Faces of iconic alumni, lit sculptures cast words against the ground for visitors to read at night and even a sculpture of the first issue of “The Onion” await park visitors.
Bonner described how tears came to her eyes when Blumberg presented his sculpture concept. She said the Bucky statue fit perfectly into Alumni Park’s overall aesthetic.
“We wanted (the park) to sparkle and be magical at night,” she said. “I think it is about looking to the future and having knowledge as the light and future of the world.”
The park is one more way of emphasizing the university’s dedication to the “Wisconsin Idea.”
Planning officially began for Alumni Park in 2009, although the original 1908 campus master plan included a park where the new park was built, according to Alumni Park communications director Carla Minsky.
Although the statue rests in a park exemplifying students of UW’s past, Bucky is purposefully perched atop a stack of books looking off into the distance.
Viewers can believe anything about what Bucky’s thoughts are, but the point is that he is contemplating where he goes from here, Blumberg said.
The statue is all encompassing—to represent the thinking that all students someday face.
“(Bucky) doesn’t just represent the sports department anymore, he represents the university to me,” Blumberg said.
Because Blumberg isn’t an alumnus of the university, he believes he took on the challenge of creating a likeness of Bucky without the associations that students or alumni might have of him.
It was, perhaps, an easier task to give Bucky a broader purpose.
Blumberg said he may have been tempted to pose Bucky in an athletic stance had he been from the university. He chose, instead, to gather inspiration from Rodin’s “The Thinker.” He gave the beloved mascot a universal feel so that anyone seeing the statue can feel connected to it.
That connection is what made Alumni Park such a special project for the WAA and the alumni who worked on it.
For Mary Carbine, director of Alumni Park and university alumna, the project represents telling the story of “the value of UW education in a new way” and what those with that education have accomplished in the world.
Part of that mission is accomplished throughout the park with panels and various artwork that display the accomplishments of alumni in all walks of life. From motorcycle entrepreneur William Harley to Vel Phillips the first woman and first African-American elected to a statewide office after winning election as secretary of state in 1978.
“Even as an alumna I was surprised at our alumni that I had no idea went to Madison,” Minsky said.
One of those great things is funding the park itself. The $8 million project was made possible by 4,000 individual donors. Those donors were both alumni and friends of the university.
Carbine and Minsky both referred to the park as “a gift” from the alumni to campus. But Carbine added that the Bucky sculpture was made possible by support from the class of 1965 on behalf of their 50th reunion in 2015.
“It’s an artistic mosaic telling the story of why education matters,” Carbine said.