Public art collection grows with TMM sculpture

The Texas Memorial Museum unveiled the newest addition to the university's collection of public art on Sept. 30 with a bronze saber-toothed tiger cat created by the museum's exhibit designer John Maisano.

The sculpture sits at the east entrance of the Texas Memorial Museum. It depicts a large male saber-toothed cat and is 1.25 times life size, illustrating the strength and ferocity of the animal that roamed North America and went extinct about 10,000 years ago.

Maisano, who was chosen during an open call for submissions, did extensive research to ensure the accuracy of his statue, but also added some styling to match the museum's Art Deco building.

"I had to study a lot of anatomy of recent cats and the skeletons of saber cats in our museum and from the La Brea Museum in Los Angeles," Maisano said. "I worked closely with paleontologists here to get the anatomy correct."

Ed Theriot, director of the Texas Natural Science Center, said the museum wanted to create a sculpture as a way to urge visitors to come inside and see what the museum has to offer.

"While the building itself is a beautiful piece of architecture, it doesn't tell you what is in it, and the name 'Texas Memorial Museum' may make you think we are a cultural history museum," he said. "As one admirer of the statue told us, 'It tells me there is a great natural history museum beyond the doors.'"

Theriot also said she hopes the statue inspires children to learn and keep nature in their lives.

"A natural history museum has to inspire as well as teach," he said. "We hope that the children who enter our doors are inspired to learn about nature their entire lives. We hope that some of them go on to be scientists. A piece of art like this helps us in our mission to inspire."

As the sculpture artist, it seems fitting that Maisano is also inspired by nature and environment, and uses that to create both his personal artwork as well as the exhibits for the museum.

"Being in the museum world for 18 years, I'm surrounded by animals and bones and great objects from the natural world. So a lot of my inspiration comes from this environment," he said. "I also love the Art Deco and Art Nouveau periods. I feel they were the most influential times of design.

"With my new line of work, I have tried to meld all these elements into my animal sculptures. I enjoy sculpting realistic pieces but also wanted to create a style for myself. This is the basis for my new line of sculptures."

Maisano's personal work includes a series of bronze artwork depicting marine life, woodland and other creatures. The collection is viewable at

Maisano has been an artist for more than 25 years, but didn't plan on focusing part of his career on sculpting. His inspiration to sculpt came in 2001 with his first commission of a 12-foot dinosaur he named Ophelia for the Hartman Prehistoric Gardens in Austin. He named the dinosaur after a neighbor who died before it was finished.

The saber-toothed cat is also dedicated to someone special in Maisano's life, his mother, but he decided not to name it after her.

"My mom passed away last year before I finished this one but I don't think the cat looks like a Rose' to me," Maisano said, adding that he found another way to pay tribute to her. "There is something hidden on the sculpture which is my message to mom."

The sculpture was created with a donation from Sarah and Ernest Butler, who gave $150,000 to the Texas Natural Science Center and designated $80,000 of it for the cast-bronze sculpture.