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Large animal sculptures part of campus art celebrating UNC Galapagos Center

Blue-footed Booby, a sculpture by David Hinkle, located in the Coker Arboretum, pictured on Monday, August 29, 2022.

Blue-footed boobies, Galapagos tortoises and marine iguanas can now all be found on UNC's campus — as new art installations.

Last spring, a series of large sculptures were installed to mark the 10-year anniversary of UNC’s Center for Galapagos Studies. 

The Center for Galapagos Studies runs the Galapagos Science Center (GSC), a joint effort between UNC and the Universidad San Francisco de Quito. The GSC is based on San Cristobal Island, off the coast of Ecuador, and houses several laboratories.

The goal of the anniversary project is to honor the wildlife and biodiversity of the Galapagos Islands.

“Not everybody has the opportunity to get to the Galapagos, so we wanted to try to bring that back here to raise awareness and to highlight the beauty of the Galapagos on campus,” Kelly Weaver, the director of external affairs and communications for the Center for Galapagos Studies, said.

Weaver said the purpose of the sculptures is to raise awareness about the research center and the education opportunities and outreach it provides. The sculptures are made out of recycled and sustainable materials that celebrate the geography of the Galapagos. 

“By using these upcycled materials to highlight that it’s important to be mindful of what we’re using and that the Earth is worth protecting,” Weaver said.

The sculptures — four in total — were placed in various locations throughout UNC's campus. 

The “Blue-Footed Booby,” made by local artist David Hinkle, sits in the Coker Arboretum, near Spencer Residence Hall.

The sculpture was made with recycled wood and glass. The piece features a large pedestal that was created with wood, and blocks made of cement and glass. 

Hinkle said he began the piece in response to the public call to art from UNC’s Arts Everywhere. 

He said he integrated pieces of Chapel Hill artist Michael Brown’s former "Sea Turtle" mural into his sculpture — notably the light blue pieces part of the base. "Sea Turtle" was in Chapel Hill for over 20 years and was dismantled in July 2022. 

Hinkle was in the area not long after the mural’s deconstruction and noticed there was still material left behind. 

“It was neat to be able to reuse a pretty iconic piece of Chapel Hill history,” he said.

Hinkle said part of his rationale behind selecting the blue-footed booby as his subject was its colors.

“One of the reasons was primarily because their feet are pretty much identical to Carolina Blue, which is kind of neat,” he said.

The Galapagos tortoise — titled “El Gran Gigante,'' — was created by Nico Amortegui and can be found in front of the Campus Y. It was made from a combination of materials, including wire, tiles and plastic bottles.

The area receives significant foot traffic, and many students enjoy seeing the tortoise while out and about during the school day.

UNC senior Zack Johnson said he thinks of the Galapagos tortoise as the spiritual successor of the spider sculpture that formerly sat across from Phillips Hall. 

For some, these sculptures even offer a time for reflection about their campus.

“Not every campus has a cool spider, so maybe we can be a campus that has cool turtles,” Johnson said.

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Despite its popularity on campus, Weaver said the tortoise is being permanently moved this week to JimGin Farm in Pittsboro, which hosts sculpture shows and weekly live music.

The “Marine Iguana,” created by Nyssa Collins and Carson Whitmore, is still being worked on but can be seen in front of the Morehead Planetarium. The artists used recycled plastic and discarded building materials to construct the piece.

The “Flightless Cormorant,” by artist Paul Estrada, is in progress and the location of its installation will be announced in the future.  

An additional piece, also of a marine iguana, was created by Isaac Delgado and will be located outside the GSC in Ecuador.

Students interested in learning more can visit the Sustainability Social at the Student Union on Wednesday, Aug. 31.