Baumgartner Vaughan: Park turtle and cardinal get spruced up

Jun. 21, 2014 @ 01:01 PM

The turtle’s name is Pickles. The Durham turtle. You know the one. It’s only eight years old, but if you have a kid, or are a kid at heart, you’ve climbed on that turtle sculpture at Durham Central Park.

It’s an awesome turtle. It’s been there since 2006 -- before the skate park, before the Leaf, before Durham Central Park blew up to become what it is today. And even a little bit before its buddy on the other side of the sidewalk, the cardinal sculpture. People voted on a name for the cardinal, but to Michael Waller -- who made both animals, plus Major the Bull at CCB Plaza -- the cardinal is named Ryan.

I happened by Waller on Friday as he was giving Pickles and Ryan a needed refreshing.

Waller started repainting the turtle on Thursday and expected to be done by Monday, with about a week for it to dry before it’s ready for kid-climbing again.

“I’m trying to get it back to life,” he said.

The turtle, which was yellowish brown before, is being repainted a bright yellow with green undertones, plus bright orange highlights. The new colors are his interpretation of a box turtle in summer, Waller said, with lots of brightness to appeal to kids.

“They love this thing. How many kids have jumped from the head to the shell to the ground?” Waller said.

My kid loves that turtle, too, and the cardinal. Even with all the new stuff at Durham Central Park, my son still thinks of it as the place with the turtle and bird. I love that turtle, too. Until Friday I never knew his name was Pickles. Waller said a friend’s daughter named it one day she came into the studio when he was making it. Pickles’ makeover also included repairing a small chip on the nose.

The cardinal’s beak was knocked off, but Waller wasn’t too upset about it. That sounds like something he would do as a teenager, he said. He repaired the bird. Ryan’s new beak has steel- and fiberglass-reinforced concrete in it. The cardinal is getting a fresh coat of red paint, too.

I’m sure you’ll be glad to see Durham’s turtle and cardinal all spruced up, but if you’re at the park this weekend, give them a while to dry before touching them again. Waller put temporary caution tape up around the sculptures.

By the way, the Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina) is the North Carolina state reptile and they can live half a century, so Durham’s turtle is still just a kid. The cardinal is our state bird, and has passed the average life expectancy of the bird in the wild. However, in the relative safety of the park [beak injury notwithstanding] it’s pretty much middle-aged. They both have many happy years ahead.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan may be reached at or 919-419-6563. Follow on Twitter: @dawnbvaughan.