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Mysterious 'Wolf of Butler Street' Sculpture Installed in Gowanus

By Leslie Albrecht | January 22, 2014 7:13am
 The massive piece of art depicts a crouching wolf with sharp claws outside the former home of the ASPCA.
Mysterious 'Wolf of Butler Street' Sculpture Installed in Gowanus
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GOWANUS — The "Wolf of Wall Street" is getting Oscar buzz, but in Gowanus it's the wolf of Butler Street that's drawing howls of praise.

Street art fans are giving a thumbs-up to a massive sculpture of a female wolf that appeared mysteriously on Butler Street, off Nevins Street. The roughly 4-foot tall white sculpture depicts a wolf with long tongue and sharp claws crouching on a pedestal.

"It's a beautiful and well-done sculpture," said Daniel Albanese, who posts photos of street art on his blog, The Dusty Rebel. "What’s really impressive about the piece is its scale — it's so large and so heavy. It takes a lot to get a piece that big moved and placed."

The work is unusual because it's more elaborate than other street art in Gowanus and likely took some planning, Albanese said. He generally finds spray paint art or wheatpaste posters in his wanderings through the neighborhood, which is filled with desolate pockets where guerilla artists can work undisturbed, without fear that their art will be stolen or defaced.

Who's the artist? It's not clear. The work is signed "Wolf Tits," a tag sometimes seen around Williamsburg, Boston and on the banks of the Gowanus Canal. But that tagger differs in style from this sculpture, according to Albanese, so it was hard for him to say if there was a direct connection.

New York City residents and tourists were similarly intrigued this past summer by Banksy's guerilla art pieces, which appeared without warning across the five boroughs through to late October.

It took at least three people and a forklift to install the heavy lupine sculpture, said Scott Fitzgerald, a local resident who was walking by when the piece was being installed. It was about 8:30 or 9 p.m. on Jan. 12, Fitzgerald said. He didn't stop long to chat, but the three men positioning the sculpture, which isn't part of a city-sanctioned program, indicated they hoped it would stay put for a while.

The wolf sits on an isolated stretch of Butler Street, not far from a couple of motorcycle clubs, where the Gowanus Canal dead ends. Some wonder if the piece could have a connection to the ASPCA, which was once headquartered in the brick building next to the sculpture, said Bob George, who works inside the building at Retrofret Vintage Guitars.

The building is also home to a pipe organ repair business as well as Retrofret, but there are still a few visible clues to its past.  A bas-relief above the front door shows an abused horse being rescued by an angel, and the pedestal that the wolf sculpture is sitting on was once a horse trough.

"It's interesting. It was a bit of a surprise," George said of the sculpture's appearance.

Fitzgerald, who's an artist, called the wolf sculpture a "nice little addition to an otherwise forgotten area of the city.

"I was really happy to see it being put there. I think New York City needs to keep that streak of interesting things popping up."