The Panda Project

Connie Slack (bottom) and friend, Hertha (top)

Credit to Connie Slack for both pictures

Every stroke and every line are all thought out precisely and carefully. The colors, the symbols and the patterns make the artwork come to life.

Some people don’t know the panda sculptures outside of the Butler Pavilion have a history. Some people walk past them every day and take advantage of their presence, but they have a past. They were born and raised in an artist’s imagination, and they were molded and transformed into a physical piece of a person that others can relate to.

Connie Slack, Artist, is the woman behind the black and white panda. She fell in love with drawing and painting when she was very young, and she studied art at West Michigan University. She continued to learn in many different places when she had to move because of her husband’s job. When they moved to D.C. she was raising a family and expanding her knowledge at the Washington Color School classes. Finally, “[she] took a studio in the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria where for the first time [she] had a real studio and a real responsibility to that studio and [her] career as an artist”.

“In 2004, DC had a panda contest for which anyone could submit a design.  I believe there were 150 pandas to be painted,” Slack said. The idea for her panda, Yin-Yang, just came to her.

“I thought the bamboo leaf patterns were interesting on the rounded shape of the panda.  They are like shadows on the figure.  The Yin-Yang refers [to] the black and white contrast, like life contrasts.” explained Slack.

Once she had her idea, Slack spent a few weeks working on her design with help from a friend (the red-head in the picture above). Next, the many panda sculptures were auctioned off to raise money for support and education of the arts. When asked about the fate of the bear, she replied, “I know that Yin-Yang brought $6000 by Dr. and Mrs. Cyrus Katzen and was originally placed at the front gate of the National Zoo before it was moved to the AU campus”.

It was-and still is- important for Connie Slack to connect with an audience through her creations. “My work will not communicate with everyone…but when it does, that is the gift I receive”.

According to two National Student Leadership Conference students Micayla Lander from Centennial, Colorado, and Erica Dion from Simi Valley, California, ‘the Pandas’ are considered “landmarks” and “something pretty to look at”. With this new found information, it is easier to see how they are so much more than that. They are an extension of the artist’s psyche and stand for the connection between creator and the creative.