When a young peacock mysteriously appeared in the Highland Park neighborhood, resident Emerson Burch thought he likely came from the nearby Chattanooga Zoo. He called the zoo to report the assumed escapee, but was told the rogue peacock — which are illegal to keep within city limits — didn’t belong at the zoo.
The peacock quickly became a fixture on the neighborhood Facebook page, where residents posted photos and stories of sightings and inquired about the bird’s whereabouts. Someone named him “Pete,” and people started feeding him pet food.
“He became a living legend in the neighborhood,” said Burch — so much so that residents ultimately decided to erect a sculpture in his honor.
Highland Park had applied to Public Art Chattanooga’s Art in Neighborhoods program for a public art project in Tatum Park. The application was approved and Burch, who submitted the application with fellow resident Khristy Wilkinson, participated in the selection committee that chose Minnesota-based sculptor Randy Walker to create a piece in summer of 2018.
But they still weren’t sure what the piece should be.
Walker and Burch took a bike ride around the neighborhood, and when talking to residents about what makes Highland Park unique, one topic kept coming up again and again: Pete the peacock.
“No matter who Randy talked to, no matter their age or demographic, this itinerant peacock seemed to be the unifying thing,” said Kat Wright, public art coordinator for the city of Chattanooga.
Walker was inspired by the community’s strong connection with Pete, and during the community engagement process, community members loved the idea of using the peacock as a theme for the piece.
“It’s funny, in a community as diverse as Highland Park, that this was something everyone could get behind,” said Burch.
Titled “re: Pete,” Walker’s interactive sculpture celebrates color and pattern in its reinterpretation of the elements of a peacock, Wright said.
Serving as the focal point of Tatum Park on Union Avenue, the sculpture symbolically embraces an existing cast bronze medallion depicting a map of the neighborhood, around which Walker erected a concrete bench flanked by colorful metal pipes. Alternating inward and outward to mimic the tail feathers of a peacock, the 14-foot-tall pipes appear entwined when viewers move the double-sided convex mirror, or “eye,” in the center to distort the view of the sculpture and its surroundings.
“I think the sculpture’s a perfect balance between a representation of the bird and also just an interesting feature for the park,” Burch said of the piece, which was funded by the city and the Benwood and Footprint foundations.
A dedication ceremony held last month drew 40-50 people from the neighborhood to view the sculpture and share stories of Pete, said Wright, who feels that’s a good representation of the community’s enthusiasm for the piece.
Just as mysteriously as he came, Pete no longer wanders the streets of Highland Park. Burch said he feels confident that the peacock — which the neighborhood watched go through his moulting period and eventually reach maturity, as evidenced by the changing pattern of his feathers and his loud mating calls — made his way to the zoo to find a peahen.
Email Emily Crisman at email@example.com.