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KEVIN LEININGER: Move over, mastodons — fiberglass bulldogs are invading New Haven

Mayor Terry McDonald with just a few of the bulldogs lining Lincoln Highway in front of New Haven City Hall. (News-Sentinel.com photo by Kevin Leininger)
"Max Bulldog," designed by Larry Davis and Steven Kennedy, will be displayed outside the office of RE/MAX Imagine Real Estate. (News-Sentinel.com photo by Kevin Leininger)
Craig Dellinger
Kevin Leininger

As IPFW prepared to celebrate its 40th anniversary in 2004, university officials decided it would be fitting to populate the city with one colorfully decorated mastodon — the school’s mascot — for each year of its existence. The idea proved so popular that at least 102 of the fiberglass statues were created, drawing nearly 10,000 to their debut in Headwaters Park the following year. Some of them are still visible around town.

New Haven is preparing for a similar invasion of at least 36 painted bulldogs, and if that number doesn’t impress you, remember that the population of Allen County’s second-largest city is about 16,000 — just 6 percent of Fort Wayne’s.

“They’re a fundraiser for the New Haven Community Foundation, and I think they’re pretty darn cute,” Mayor Terry McDonald said of the 13 completed statues lining Lincoln Highway in front of City Hall. “There’s always room for art, and this is a symbol of community pride. I’m proud of it.”

So is Foundation Board and City Council member Craig Dellinger, who worked with Irene Walters, IPFW’s executive director of university relations and communications in 2004, to plan what is being called the “Bulldog Community Art Project” in honor of the high school’s familiar four-legged namesake.

“We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. And we won’t make a lot of money, maybe $300 off the large statues, but we wanted to do something fun,” he said. Large 48-inch tall statues painted by a local artist are selling for $2,500; smaller 17-inch statues cost $900, and either variety can be painted to order, with the artist getting $500 of that amount.

To date, Dellinger said, 14 large statues and 10 smaller ones have been sold, putting New Haven well on its way to meeting the 36-bulldog goal. With about $200,000 in current assets, additional income will allow the foundation to make more grants and build its endowment to the long-term benefit of the community, he said. Foundation projects to date include the band shell in Schnelker Park and downtown Christmas decorations.

But New Haven’s first public arts project is more than a mere fund-raising tool. It’s also designed to showcase local businesses, institutions and artists such as Kim Linker, who in addition to designing three of the first 14 large bulldogs is also responsible for some of the murals on the side of some of the city’s downtown buildings.

Three versions of the statues are made in Chicago, Dellinger said: with the Bulldog’s head facing left, right and straight ahead. The lineup in front of City Hall includes all three, with designs and colors as diverse as the statues’ final homes in front of such places as Imagine Real Estate, McMahon’s Tire, the New Haven Library and Middle School and Schnelker Park. But individuals, business and groups can continues to buy them indefinitely, meaning that 36-statue goal may have to be adjusted upward.

In Fort Wayne, the Mastodons were displayed around town and in Headwaters Park before eventually being sold at auction to benefit the United Way. A similar approach was taken by the Athens-Oconee Junior Women’s Club when it began the “We Let the Dawgs Out” public art exhibit in Athens, home of the University of Georgia Bulldogs in 2003. When the project ended in 2010, the statues were auctioned off and raised $25,000 for charity.

New Haven’s approach is more straightforward. “You buy it, it’s yours,” McDonald said. “You keep it as long as you like.”

But first, the bulldogs will appear in the annual Canal Days festival parade scheduled for 11 A.M. Saturday, June 8. McDonald hopes the Bulldog Parade, along with other new events, will also add a little zest to the annual festival, which has in the past drawn from criticism from downtown business owners and others because of traffic congestion, closed streets and other concerns.

In these days of anonymous internet griping, it is perhaps not a surprise that a few people have actually complained about the coming bulldog infestation. “It’s sad there’s always somebody against something,” McDonald said. “But this is a joyful thing.”

He’s right. May their toothless bite be far less than their bark.

For more information on the program, contact the foundation at 260-748-7599.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.

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