A playful metal sculpture of a cat by Suguru Hiraide, professor of art at Midwestern State University, was chosen with seven other artists to be featured in True North, a sculpture project in Houston’s Heights neighborhood.
Hiraide’s “Maneki Cat Altar” is a towering aluminum sculpture that turns with the wind while the cat’s solar-powered paw beckons visitors for a closer look. His inspiration was the “maneki neko,” or beckoning cat, of Japanese folklore, as well as a cat which frequently visits his house. The maneki cat holds currency in its other paw, symbolizing good fortune and life successes. Hiraide combined the East and West in his title, using the Japanese word for ‘beckoning’ with the English word for ‘cat.’
Most maneki cats wave with palms facing forward. Hiraide westernized his piece by turning the palm inwards the way Americans wave their hands to beckon – another blending of the East and West.
Since 2014, True North has selected eight outdoor sculptures and exhibited them alongside the trails of Heights Boulevard in Houston. “It’s a great honor and opportunity to show my work at the beautiful historic esplanade,” Hiraide said.
Hiraide teaches sculpture and metals at MSU Texas. In 2018, he was the first recipient of the Jane Spears Carnes Faculty Fellowship in Creative Endeavors which gave him a semester off to concentrate on research and artistic projects. His work has been displayed nationally and internationally, including solo exhibitions in Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, and Tokyo, and in international group shows at Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Fukuoka Asian Museum in Fukuoka, and Kanagawa Prefectural Gallery in Yokohama, Japan.
True North’s mission is to advance the accessibility, understanding, and enjoyment of contemporary art for the community and public featuring works by prominent and emerging Texas artists. Named for the compass bearing of Heights Boulevard in Houston, True North’s chosen pieces are installed on designated sites along the winding trails of the boulevard’s forested esplanade and remain in place from March to December. True North sculptures are seen by hundreds of thousands of residents and visitors to the Houston Heights. The sculpture project is popular on social media, with its own website and Facebook and Instagram pages.
The project is also conducted in partnership with the City of Houston Parks and Recreation and Public Works Departments, the Houston Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, and the Houston Arts Alliance.