ANNAPOLIS – Watch out Maryland. The fearsome Testudo is leaving its habitat at the stadiums at University of Maryland, College Park and could be moving down the street from you.
Starting this week, 20 sculptures of the Maryland terrapin, which is the face of the university’s Fear the Turtle campaign, are going to be placed in prominent places on the streets of several Maryland communities. They will stay until September, when the turtle sculptures will return to campus to be auctioned off for student scholarships.
The first wave of the migration started Tuesday, when the university installed sculptures in Baltimore, Annapolis, Hanover and at two rest stops along Interstate 95, according to Cassandra Robinson, assistant director of university communications at the College Park campus.
“(The Fear the Turtle Sculpture Campaign is) about having the community think about the university and its connections to the state,” she said.
The turtles are also due to pop up in Silver Spring, Riverdale, Ocean City, Landover and Washington, D.C., over the next two weeks. The campaign is reminiscent of one that began in Chicago a few years ago when cows began to appear on the streets – to celebrate that city’s meat-packing tradition. Similar ones have since spread to other cities, including Baltimore, which has displayed its crab sculptures (what else?) at prominent places.
Each fiberglass Testudo stands at almost four-and-a-half feet on a concrete base. Testudo is stocky and strong, with tense arm muscles and a facial expression somewhere between a scowl and a smile.
The Annapolis Testudo appeared without great ceremony Tuesday morning in one of the state capital’s most prominent places – Lawyer’s Mall outside the State House. It stands beside the entrance to the Legislative Services building, glaring across the Mall at the governor’s mansion, whose current occupant, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, is a Princeton man.
This Testudo, titled Maryland Mosaic, features images from the university on its yellow belly, such as a silhouette of Maryland graduate and Muppet creator Jim Henson, with “UMD” painted on toenails on each wide foot.
The shell is covered with scenes from across the state. A crab swims below a view of a country barn. The state motto, Fatti Maschi Parole Femine (often translated as “manly deeds, womanly words”) is written on the orange base.
Isabelle Lock, a 10-year-old student at Davidsonville Elementary School who was visiting Annapolis on a field trip, immediately recognized items from both the university and the state. She spouted a quick list – the basketball player taking a shot, the floating green trumpet on the turtle’s yellow belly and the Maryland flag trousers.
“It’s cool,” she said as her classmates played around the statue after posing for a picture. “It’s like a collage.”
While she spoke, Tyler King, 10, climbed onto the sculpture’s base to place his Fear the Turtle baseball cap on the turtle’s head before stepping back to admire his addition to the piece.
The project is an invitation to people across the state to be part of the year-long celebration of the 150th anniversary of the university, Robinson said.
Each fiberglass turtle embodies “the essence of the university” and its ties to institutions, businesses and people in the region, she added.
Testudo began its career representing the university in the 1930s, when the then football coach suggested the terrapin, which is the state reptile, should be the official mascot.
But the origin of the mascot’s name is not as clear, according to information from the university Web site. It could be from the scientific classification for the turtle, testudines, or from a species of turtle known as testudo gigantia. Others point out that testudo is derived from the Latin word for a shield used to protect the head of Roman soldiers.
Whatever the reason for the name, the selected artists transformed Testudo, usually seen as an energetic cheerleader, into a whole cast of characters including jester (Landover), astronaut (College Park campus), Andy Warhol painting (College Park campus) and disco ball (Silver Spring).
Regional artists and College Park students submitted over 80 design proposals last fall. Fifty – including nine by students – were selected and matched with sponsors, such as local businesses and university alumni.
Each sponsor donated $4,000 to pay for the cost of each work so all the money raised at the auction will go directly to scholarships, Robinson said. Robinson noted the university does not have a target goal for the fundraiser. They have already sold 17 pieces to sponsors who paid $7,500 to sponsor and purchase a work, she said.