Roaring creativity: UNI students embellish TC statues for community pride project

Roaring creativity: UNI students embellish TC statues for community pride project

Anna Flanders /

You’ll soon begin to see more than two dozen anthropomorphic Panther statues — six feet tall and weighing 65 to 70 pounds each — around the Cedar Valley. These Panthers on Parade are the result of an effort spearheaded by Cedar Falls Tourism & Visitors Bureau, in partnership with the University of Northern Iowa. Artists with a UNI, Cedar Falls, Cedar Valley or Iowa connection submitted designs to embellish the fiberglass statues of UNI’s mascot TC and paired with local businesses to bring their designs to life. 

UNI students working in the Public Art Incubator are among the artists behind the TC designs. 

“As someone who wants to work in art and in public art, it seemed like a no-brainer to take advantage of this opportunity, and especially being a Cedar Falls resident and being familiar with the area, it just made sense,” said Amelia Gotera, a senior pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Studio Art with an emphasis in sculpture. 

Gotera embellished two sculptures. One is a fully holographic vinyl-covered Panther. 

“I was thinking about how people want something that is Instagrammable that people are going to be curious about, have questions about, that's approachable and people want to take pictures with,” Gotera explained. “So, for me, it made sense to come up with something really eye-catching and beautiful. I think it's aesthetically something that's unique. There aren’t holographic sculptures all over town.”

Holographic looking TC statue

UNI TC statue in progress with heart on chest

Before Panthers on Parade, Gotera did not have much experience working with fiberglass or vinyl. She also hadn’t painted much in past projects at the Public Art Incubator. As part of the process, she had to research the materials she was using to ensure they would be UV-friendly and waterproof, as the sculptures will be displayed outside for several months.

“It's been fun to branch out into these other materials and deepen my tool belt,” she said.

Although there were many late nights alone in the Public Art Incubator, Gotera believes the project was well worth it.

“It's meaningful for anyone to be able to leave a visual marker saying, ‘I was here,’” said Gotera. “For me, public art, while it's a job, it's really about imagining the experience of the audience and thinking about what happens after I've left it there.”

From February to April, Rachel Heine, a UNI senior majoring in graphic design, was also hard at work in the Public Art Incubator, embellishing two TC sculptures of her own. “I was really excited when I found out two of my designs had been chosen,” said Heine. “It felt like a big community project, something that will be seen by a lot of people and just something completely different than what I've worked on before. So I was really excited to learn a bunch and then have something that will be displayed in Cedar Falls.”

TC statue with shorts covered in Monopoly money and TC statue dressed as a lifeguard in progress

Much like Gotera, working on the TCs gave her experience with mediums she does not typically work with such as resin, fiberglass and paint. Through the experience of working on Panthers on Parade, Heine became more comfortable with all of these mediums. She enjoyed that unlike many of her projects with the Public Art Incubator, she had more control over the finished product.

“It was very freeing,” she said. “It makes me feel confident in my abilities as an artist that I was able to come up with the idea and then see it through to the final sculpture.”

With past projects, Heine’s work in the Public Art Incubator has gone all across the state, but it’s especially meaningful for a project to end up in the Cedar Valley, which has been her home during her college years. 

“It really, really motivates me to do my best on it just because I want  people to look at it and be impressed, and I also want to be proud of the work that I do,” she said. “So definitely, that is a big motivating factor.”

To learn more, visit

See the big reveal of Panthers on Parade.