A! Magazine for the Arts

One of the statues in Bristol's Caterpillar Crawl appears in a photo taken during the feature's unveiling in May. (Bristol Herald Courier)

One of the statues in Bristol's Caterpillar Crawl appears in a photo taken during the feature's unveiling in May. (Bristol Herald Courier)

Officials Fear Abducted Caterpillars May Never Be Found

July 7, 2009

BRISTOL, Va. – The rightful owners of downtown Bristol's abducted caterpillar sculptures have all but given up hope for their safe return.

The missing critters, part of the Caterpillar Crawl children's scavenger hunt, were heisted almost two weeks ago. And despite promises of amnesty and rewards for information, the literacy program's organizers said they aren't any closer to finding the culprit.

"We're going to replace them, and we're going to continue to replace them," said Katy Sikorski, president-elect of the Junior League, the nonprofit group that sponsored the crawl. "That's $1,500 from our budget that would go to hungry kids, promoting literacy, to children's classrooms. It's the pits, it truly is the pits."

Police are still reviewing surveillance footage from the time of the theft, and Sikorski said they will not press charges if the caterpillars are returned unharmed.

If that doesn't happen soon, the new crop of sculptures will have a more secure anchoring system, according to artist Val Lyle.

"These are mean-spirited vandals that are hard to outsmart," Lyle said.

To remove the original critters, the thieves apparently used a bolt cutter or hammer.

The Caterpillar Crawl, which debuted in Bristol in late May, was designed to promote children's literacy with hands-on adventures based on a popular kids book.

The crawl sends children, lime green maps in hand, searching for 10 tiny bronze bugs hidden along State Street.

The initiative is fashioned after a similar project in Greenville, S.C., featuring mice. There, in almost 10 years, only two sculptures have been stolen.

"The mice have been on Main Street since 2000, so we really have had very few problems," "Mice on Main" author Linda Kelly wrote in an e-mail. "Most people are so delighted with the hunt for the mice being there that they don't bother them except to rub their ears and noses!"

Sikorski and Lyle hope this is the last time they'll have to replace the caterpillars.

Lyle said the sculpting process is long and laborious, so permanent replacements can't be finished for at least six weeks. But summer is the prime time for kids to do the hunt, so Lyle and Sikorski are determined to find a way for it to continue minus the pilfered landmarks. So far, they've tried laminating photos and taping, gluing and otherwise sticking them to the sites. Each time, however, the stand-in stop was stolen in no time.

"I was using liquid nails," Sikorski said. "I put one on the guardrail at Piedmont and State Street, then the one at the Wachovia ATM, then Java J's. By the time I got back to the guardrail, it was gone. Within the hour, it didn't even have a chance to fully dry."

Now, Lyle is working on stand-in epoxy sculptures.

"They're kind of cheap and ugly, and hopefully not as desirable to steal," she said. "It's heartbreaking to see kids looking for clues that are gone. This is a gift to the city, to the people of Bristol. I think we could all help keep an eye on them for the children's sake."

If you have any information on the stolen caterpillars, please call the Junior League's anonymous tip line at (423) 956-2116.