Mystery of New London courthouse sculpture solved, but will it stay?

A mystery sculpture on the property of the Connecticut Superior Court at Huntington and Broad St. in New London Monday, September 11, 2017.  (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
A mystery sculpture on the property of the Connecticut Superior Court at Huntington and Broad St. in New London Monday, September 11, 2017. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

New London — Call it the Mystery of the Courthouse Cat Sculpture.

Some time over the weekend, a cat-themed sculpture was placed in a mulch bed in front of the New London Judicial District courthouse on Huntington Street. Constructed of wood and plaster, the sun-shaped, feline-themed sculpture sits on a pedestal and appears to have been professionally carved and installed.

Courthouse staff noticed the new piece of art when they arrived at work Monday morning. Many admired it, a couple thought it silly, but nobody knew where it came from.

Another sculpture, a woman figure in wood, also appeared over the weekend in Williams Memorial Park, just a block away from the courthouse, and soon people began to suspect that Bill Bendig was behind the stealth sculpture installations.

Bendig, founder and director of the Hollycroft Foundation of Essex, has been working with city officials to create the New London Sculpture Mile, an exhibit of more than 20 sculptures that will run from the downtown area through Hodges Square and McKinley Park and end at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum.

Reached by phone later in the day, Bendig, 90 years old and not timid, took credit for installing both the cat sculpture and the woman sculpture, and said he was "madder than hell," having been told by a state official that he would have to remove the cat piece from courthouse property.

"It's most unfortunate," said Bendig. "It's bureaucratic nonsense. We understood we had permission, but it doesn't apply to that particular area."

The sculpture is called "Catrophy," and it is by William Evans, a well-known sculptor from Boston, Bendig said.

"It's a series of cats, a disc with a cat in the center and ringed by cats running around it," he said.

He plans to return to the courthouse Tuesday and remove the sculpture if he can find somebody to help him.

"It took hours to install," he said. "It will take hours to de-install."

It's not as if Bendig had installed the sculpture in the dead of night. Two people from neighboring businesses watched it happen, though their accounts of what they saw differ slightly.

"I was sitting here, and a pickup truck drives by and drops off this statue," said John Frenzel, who works at the Fiddlehead Food Co-Op at 13 Broad St. "There was another statute in the car of a person from the torso up."

Frenzel thinks it happened Saturday and the pickup truck was white, but he's not sure. He is one of the many who admired the sculpture.

"I like it," he said. "It's a good statue. Why not keep it up?"

Another eyewitness, Ken Hochstetler, owner of Kamp Dog restaurant, said he saw somebody in a black pickup truck drop off the sculpture some time mid-morning on Saturday. He said there were a couple more pieces of art in the pickup's bed.

"I watched them put it up, and the whole time I was like, 'You're going to have to take it down. You don't put stuff on state property."

City of New London officials, who were focused over the weekend on the Connecticut Maritime Heritage Festival, were unaware that the sculpture would be installed at the courthouse.

Bendig has been working with the city to place sculptures on public properties, and the Park and Recreation Department has approved art work for several city parks. This coming weekend, a large sculpture called "Monk" will be installed by crane at the Methodist Church property at Williams and Broad, according to Tammy Daugherty, director of the city's Office of Development and Planning.

"It's a great, great, great idea," Daugherty said of the sculpture project. "And we're really very happy to facilitate it."

k.florin@theday.com

A mystery sculpture on the property of the Connecticut Superior Court at Huntington and Broad St. in New London Monday, September 11, 2017.  (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
A mystery sculpture on the property of the Connecticut Superior Court at Huntington and Broad St. in New London Monday, September 11, 2017. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

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