The University of New Hampshire’s (UNH) Wildcat statue turns 15 years old this year. This iconic statue has become a permanent part of the Durham campus.  

Matthew Gray Palmer, a Washington based artist and creator of the Wildcat said, “I can’t believe it’s been 15 years! This project was significant to me in that there was such engagement from so many of the students, faculty, alumni and administrators. There was a level of enthusiasm and energy that was unique to this project and that I feel was successfully channeled into the Wildcat sculpture.” 

The Wildcat was voted the university’s mascot in 1926, and won over the bulls, huskies, eagles, and unicorns. According to UNH, the students voted on the Wildcat because of its speed, litheness, and resourcefulness. 

Palmer said, “As I reflect on that time I also conjure the memory of insanely digging through fresh poison ivy in search of the select granite glacial erratics that would be so integral to the landscape design that the bronze statue would inhabit. And installing those massive stones in a torrential downpour. The bronze statue went in quite gracefully. It was an adventure throughout.” 

The bronze statue was installed in 2006 in front of the Whittemore Center. According to UNH the statue cost $160,000, which was funded by private gifts, the UNH Alumni Association, the UNH Parents Association and several other alumni donors. The Wildcat also holds tradition. 

Lauren Reid, a tour guide at UNH, said, “Freshmen participate in ‘pat the cat’ during their first few days here.” Once you graduate, it is tradition to pet the Wildcat’s nose on the way out of the ceremony. 

According to UNH the “pat the cat” tradition began in 2009. The Wildcat also brings together families and friends. 

Jillian Kolbert, a second generation UNH Wildcat, said “the Wildcat statue is a special spot to my family. Both my parents, my sister, and I all attended UNH. Every time we go to a hockey game we take a picture in front of it.”  

Although the Wildcat is only 15 years old, it will continue to connect UNH Wildcats for many years to come. 

Palmer said, “It’s fascinating to ponder all of the subtle ways in which the Wildcat sculpture, as a feature of the UNH campus space, has been however meaningful to the individual experience of the students, faculty, staff and Durham’s community.” 

Photos courtesy of the University of New Hampshire.