Millions buzz around North America’s forests, so common yellow jackets like Vespula maculifrons are not an endangered species. These yellow jackets live in closely packed hives of up to 15,000, mate in early September and die off each winter.
The Tech species of yellow jacket, with a population of 18,000 located solely in Atlanta, could constitute a protected species. These yellow jackets also live in closely-packed hives or dormitories. They mostly migrate in the winter, and their mating habits can best be described as “sporadic.”
This September, Tech students discovered a new threatened species of yellow jacket in Atlanta: the “Buzz around Town” sculptures placed around campus. Bright and creatively colored, the 25 yellow jackets that are part of this project stand out in their urban environment.
The GT Alumni Association (GTAA) produced the fiberglass Buzz sculptures for the GTAA’s 100th anniversary. Renee Queen, vice president of marketing services for the GTAA, took time out of Family Weekend to describe the Buzz around Town project.
Queen developed the idea of making fiberglass Buzzes during the brainstorming process for the centennial celebration, looking for an event “that would showcase the uniqueness of Georgia Tech. We wanted to do something more than cutting a cake,” she said.
“[To advertise the idea, we] put out a request looking for artists. We especially wanted artists and sponsors affiliated with Georgia Tech or student artists from other schools—SCAD, Georgia State—to continue that community-type feeling,” she said.
In April, Queen contracted Cow Painters, Inc. in Chicago to manufacture and mold two to three fiberglass Buzzes per week. Cow Painters has also created sculptures for the international Cow Parade shows seen in cities like Atlanta, Zurich and Tokyo.
(Note: one might find it ironic that someone named Queen is in charge of manufacturing Buzzes. But in all seriousness, a queen yellow jacket is 50 percent larger than her drones, so Renee would have to stand at least 7’6” tall to satisfy this metaphor.)
The cost to sponsor a Buzz sculpture ranged from $800 for student organizations to $1600 for anybody else. Sponsors had the option of choosing the artist for their sculpture, and the artist received $400 for an honorarium (which they then had to use for supplies). Some sponsors endearingly gave the Buzzes’ painting rights to their family members.
Queen said, “Each design has a story. Calvin Babcock [sponsor of ‘Legacy Buzz’ near the Tech Tower] is a Tech alumnus who purchased his sculpture outright because he wanted his mother, who is 80, to decorate the Buzz.”
“Then, there’s the ‘Heritage Buzz’ [in Tech Square]. Kimberly Davis is a Tech alumnus who sponsored this, so her daughter at Heritage High School could paint this in her art class with her art teacher. So, this one is a family experience.”
Unfortunately, many of these public artworks have been casualties of vandalism: one Buzz has had its mug stolen, another’s glasses have been broken, one has lost its necklace, and one Buzz’s eyeball has been dislodged.
Several Buzzes have had their antennae broken—in fact, more than 10 Buzzes, mostly those located on Techwood, have suffered broken antennae. Breaking antennae is no mean feat either: whoever broke them had to do so with purpose and with special tools since the prostheses were attached to the fiberglass with iron cables.
One student artist, fourth-year ARCH major Michael Gluzman, discussed his frustration about having his work vandalized. “We worked on a Buzz for the CoE [Super Star Buzz] which has been vandalized on several occasions now. I certainly don’t have details, but I can gripe and complain about how hard we worked just to see the [vandalism] ensue…in our case it’s a lot of destroyed or stolen accessories,” he said.
A sad fact about the vandalism is that the Buzzes were due to be auctioned off, with proceeds going to student organizations. “The sponsors could have the proceeds go to an organization of their choice,” Queen said. Although Queen admitted she does not know exactly what the auction prices may have been, the University of Maryland, which did something similar to the Buzz Around Town project for their turtle mascots, sold their turtles for $6,000 to $8,000 apiece.
Queen expressed concern about the vandalism, but said that she didn’t think any of it had been too malicious so far. However, she said her hope is that “students will take ownership of the Buzzes and protect them. I’m so attached to all of them. To me, those are my students. Those are my 25 children. I personally get out the golf cart and visit them daily.”
In other words, despite the environmental pressure, this Queen will take care of her rare yellow jackets.