By MELISSA PACHIKARA
Maryland Newsline/Capital News Service
COLLEGE PARK - Susan Wilkes, a 1983 alumna of the University of Maryland, plans to be on campus this week for an activity she hasn't yet told her husband about.
It's nothing scandalous, but it could involve a large transaction of money.
Wilkes, 45, said she expects to bid at one of the silent and live auctions on Thursday for Fear the Turtle terrapin sculptures that have graced spots around the campus, the state and Washington, D.C., since last spring.
The 50 sculptures - decorated by 50 different artists - celebrate the university's 150th anniversary.
"I think it's something very cute and unique," Wilkes said of the painted sculptures. "What I'm going to do with it, I don't know yet," she said.
Before she makes up her mind and bids for one, she'll need to see the turtles, she added.
"The price that I pay for it may be worth the look on my husband's face when I come home with one, or when it's delivered," Wilkes said.
The silent and live auctions at the Samuel Riggs IV Alumni Center are part of four turtle auctions scheduled for this month.
Twelve sculptures will go in the silent auction, 19 in the live auction. Bidders must be invited, and requests for invitations can be made on the university Web site. Starting bids will begin at $500 to $1,000.
Two online auctions, each for one sculpture, are also occurring. The first began last week and closed Monday. The other will begin Friday and will last a week.
Sponsors of the turtles, who paid for their cost and decoration, had the option of pre-purchasing those sculptures for an additional $3,500 beyond the $4,000 sponsorship cost. Sixteen sponsors opted to do just that.
Gary Sudhalter, 42, a 1985 alumnus, plans to attend an auction for one of the remaining turtles. He said he would like to have a sculpture to put in his back yard to show off his pride in the university.
"I met my wife there the first day of school," Sudhalter said. "I've been a huge fan with the sports teams doing better and better, the academic levels being increased there."
Another possible bidder is Janet B. Anderson, assistant director of finance at the School of Public Policy. She said she brought the idea of this kind of public art project to campus more than two years ago after a business management training event at the University of Kentucky, which initiated a similar public art project to raise money for a basketball museum.
Proceeds from the Fear the Turtle sculptures will fund university scholarships.
Anderson said she might bid on a sculpture created by her niece, called "Diamonds of the Chesapeake."
Anderson was also the artist who created the sparkling "Metalli Terp," a brown turtle with the university's red, black, gold and white globe icon on its belly.?The sculpture has already been purchased and will be displayed in the College of Health and Human Performance, from which Anderson received her undergraduate degree.
The interest in the turtles has spanned beyond Maryland's borders. Cassandra Robinson, associate director of university marketing, said she received a call from someone in Connecticut wanting to know how long the turtles would be around.
Robinson managed the project—from working with the initial sculptor to decide what the base sculpture would look like, to recruiting artists to create unique looks for each turtle, to working with the university development department to get sponsors, to finding display locations.
Thirty sculptures were exhibited on campus; the other 20 found their way to communities in Prince George's County, as well as to Annapolis, Baltimore, Silver Spring, Ocean City, service areas along Interstate 95, Arundel Mills Mall and even Union Station in Washington, D.C.
"The project really exceeded our expectations; it turned out to be a spectacular way to celebrate the university and involve so many of the constituents involved with the university in this one project," Robinson said.
Despite security measures, some sculptures have been vandalized.
Robinson noted that the mortarboard on "Testudo the Grad" was stolen and later broken.
Some of the sculptures were written on with markers.
The "Trash Talkin' Testudo," made with recycled goods, was significantly damaged.
"Tuxudo's" hat disappeared.
Some of the damage occurred when individuals climbed on the sculptures to take photos.
Robinson said damage has been minimal and overall the sculptures were received positively.
As for Robinson, the turtles have become an important part of her life.
"I love them all; they've all become my babies," she said.
The turtles will not leave without some pomp and circumstance. On Oct. 18, a turtle parade will roll through campus at 10 a.m., ending at the Riggs Alumni Center. The turtles will be on display there from noon to 5 p.m. on Oct. 18, then auctioned off the following day beginning at 6 p.m.