On a blustery winter day in December 1987, a small crowd of spectators gathered around the Field House at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). They had assembled for the unveiling of a life-size bronze sculpture of the young university’s mascot. The Retriever statue, aka the True Grit statue, currently located in the plaza in front of the Retriever Activities Center (RAC) continues to stand as a reminder of the student body’s pride in their university.
The Retriever was chosen as the school mascot in 1966 by the first class of UMBC. A competition was held and forty different suggestions were presented. After a university-wide vote, administrators selected the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, a dog breed native to Maryland, as the school’s official mascot. The Retriever has since gone on to become the name of the student newspaper, yearbook, and athletic teams.
In 1986, Alumna Paulette Raye, philosophy major and self-proclaimed dog-lover, was commissioned by UMBC administrators to construct a statue for the school’s 20th anniversary, based on the university’s beloved mascot. Raye took several studio art classes during her time at UMBC, even earning three credits towards her degree, for creating the life-size bronze model of the Retriever. Raye’s “conception was that the dog should represent the study body—alert, intelligent, eager to learn and friendly.” To capture this “alertness,” Raye designed a statue of True Grit that would stand upright and gaze straight ahead with his ears cocked.
Raye worked on the statue for almost two years, using a local five year old Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Nitty Gritty as her model. True Grit was the name of Nitty Gritty’s father, and in an interview with UMBC Magazine Raye recalled that she wasn’t exactly sure “why the mascot received that name [True Grit instead of Nitty Gritty]… other than it sounded bold and strong—like the [school’s] team.” Nitty Gritty later had the honor of pulling a black cloth off the statue of himself at the statue’s inauguration.
During the unveiling ceremony on December 7, 1987, UMBC Chancellor Michael Hooker instituted a new tradition for the young university: rubbing True Grit’s nose for good luck. At the unveiling, Hooker remarked, “Tradition is exceedingly important. We used to be young [but] we are adults now. It is appropriate that we begin a new tradition.” Since its unveiling, the Retriever statue has remained a beloved campus landmark, often greeting students with a student newspaper in its mouth or bedecked with a cap and gown during graduation. Students continue to stop by during finals to rub True Grit’s nose, now discolored due to almost thirty years of UMBC students and faculty taking part in a campus-wide tradition.