The cat that became an internet sensation for sneaking repeatedly into the Macalester College library will soon have a permanent presence in the building where he became a legend.
A California artist with no ties to the St. Paul school plans to create a large oil painting of Max, the mischievous orange tabby whose escapades in 2017 went viral and still draw a cult following online.
“He clearly has staying power,” said Library Director Angi Faiks. “It’s an unexpected surprise. The connection that Max has created among all sorts of people across the globe is inspiring. This is a lovely and warm gesture.”
Sculptor and art professor Liesa Lietzke learned about Max though the cat’s Instagram account, where posts chronicled the curious kitty’s escapades, including hanging out on the patio at nearby French Meadow Bakery and finding his way into Macalester’s classroom buildings, dorms and even the president’s office.
But Max gained the most fame when he darted into the library and security cameras captured him roaming the stacks. His numerous visits led library workers to post a now-famous sign that read “Please do not let in the cat.”
But the sign generated support for Max as well as notoriety, as publications including the Star Tribune, Washington Post and media outlets around the world told his story.
“I was amused about the whole thing,” said Lietzke, a cat-loving artist who works in painting, sculpture and mixed media and who has taught at several institutions in her native California. “I thought his image should be there for posterity. It seemed like it would be satisfying — for a lot of people — to be able to say, ‘Max finally gets to be in the library.’ ”
Lietzke contacted Max’s owners, Greg and Connie Lipton, and made a couple of clay figures of Max for them. She proposed a sculpture of Max, but when COVID-19 hit she was not able to get into her studio and opted for an oil painting instead.
Max has not been seen on the leafy campus in St. Paul’s Macalester-Groveland neighborhood for more than two years. He moved with his owners to North Carolina when Greg, then a religious studies professor at Macalester, took a job at High Point University in High Point, N.C.
But many still ask about Max, said Connie Lipton, who noted that her social tabby had not been in a bookstore or library since the move.
“People on his Instagram account want to know if they can meet him when they come to campus,” Connie Lipton said.
Lietzke, who teaches at Santa Rosa Junior College in Santa Rosa, Calif., said she plans to start sketching out the painting this fall and hopes to complete it by the end of winter break. Then she plans to raise enough money to ship it ready-to-hang, without having to remove the canvas from its stretchers.
Connie Lipton said she was touched by Lietzke’s offer to add another chapter to Max’s storied life.
“It’s pretty amazing,” she said. “With COVID and all the craziness, it still makes people smile. Max is gone [from Macalester] but he’s not forgotten. He still is making people happy.”
Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768