Arts & Culture

A Different Kind of Easter Bunny

How a university town rallied around an unusual piece of outdoor sculpture

Photo: Janet Spivey Guynn

The two men dressed in rabbit costumes were only supposed to go for a quick dip.

Installed in the pond near the Jule Collins Smith Museum in Auburn, Alabama, the sculpture—“Self-Portrait as Bunnies (The Bathers),” by New Orleans artist Alex Podesta—was part of an outdoor sculpture exhibition that began in late-summer 2015 and ran through 2016. From the moment Podesta anchored the two life-sized, rabbit-eared figures in the water, they piqued the curiosity of nearly every passerby on South College Street. “I don’t think we actually caused any wrecks, but we came pretty close,” says Andy Tennant, assistant director at the museum. “The police actually showed up once. They had been told by somebody that there were people illegally swimming in the pond.”

Janet Spivey Guynn

Through the exhibit’s yearlong run, the sculpture gained a following. The area became a popular selfie background spot for fans to take snaps of turtles sunbathing on the bunnies’ shoulders. Podesta even returned to clean the pieces, which had been in the pond for a year, their white acrylic fur weathered gray.  “He pulled them out of the water and gave them a good old fashioned bath with Palm Olive, Oxi-Clean, and some elbow grease,” says Charlotte Hendrix, the museum’s communications director.

Photo: Jessica Hughes Hill

Artist Alex Podesta washes a portion of the sculpture.

When the exhibit’s loan was scheduled to end in 2016, the museum’s staff knew fans would be upset to see the sculpture go. So they developed a “Save the Bunnies” campaign to raise the funds to purchase it outright. On Tiger Giving Day, a 24-hour-crowdsourcing event held this February, more than $8,000 poured in. “It was a pleasant surprise,” Harper says. “Auburn is a university town, it’s an informed and engaged community who enjoy art of all types and of surprisingly non-traditional forms,” Harper says. With the full amount raised, Podesta’s sculpture will join the museum’s permanent collection and go on bobbing like buoys in the pond. “Now the bunnies have become sort of a part of the family.”