Monday, September 8, 2014

Hyena Project Part 3: The Sculpture

At first blush, hyenas resemble dogs with short hind legs. Upon closer inspection, the hyena's neck is longer, the face is different (especially the ears), and even the forelegs have a curious flexibility. As I welded the armature and began applying layer upon layer of clay, I found myself growing more and more fond of these subtle differences. The eyes of a hyena are also very expressive. Frankly, sculpting Frankie the Hyena turned out to be a lot of fun.

    To complete this commission I had to confront my own prejudices. What I found was a gift, for I will never look at hyenas the same way again. Now I can appreciate them for what they truly are: amazing creatures, superbly adapted to their lifestyle and habitats. 

 The life size sculpture is currently at the foundry. When cast in bronze, Frankie will stand atop a large boulder on the grounds of the Chattanooga Zoo, paying homage to a beloved resident and allowing generations of visitors to see hyenas in a new and favorable light.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Hyena Project Part 2: Getting Started

Because I have already spent many hours watching hyenas in the wild, I could not quite justify a trip to Africa (believe me, I tried).
Picturing days filled with California sunshine and unlimited access, I settled on a week and a half at the San Diego Zoo. What I got when I arrived was five days of standing amid unprecedented rain and wind storms (in southern California!), with hyenas sleeping out of sight. When the sun finally appeared, the hyenas remained asleep and out of sight for most of each day. 
     Because they might awaken at any time (Ha!), I was honor-bound to stand with binoculars and sketching materials at the ready. For five? days. From open to close, I probably averaged 25 minutes of decent viewing each day. Several days provided less than 10 minutes! None the less, I returned home with several charcoal sketches and the detailed understanding of anatomy necessary to begin sculpting.    

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Hyena project Part 1: the Commission

   It is not every day that I receive correspondence asking me to create a life-size African mammal, let alone a popularly reviled creature that most people seem to consider downright ugly.
    In popular myth, hyenas are portrayed as thieving cowards who only scavenge for food. Research has shown Spotted Hyenas are, in fact, major predators who frequently hunt animals many times their own size. As it turns out, lions often steal hyena kills. 
Hyenas have a unique physiognomy: from their sloping backs and stunted back legs that adapt them for highly efficient long distance running, to large, powerful necks which allow them to bring down large prey, and incredibly powerful jaws able to crush large bones, hyenas have evolved to fit a very specific niche in the food chain.
     In captivity, hand-raised hyenas can be amazingly gentle and affectionate. Many years ago, in Chattanooga, TN, a hyena was rescued from poor conditions to become a long-time resident. This much-beloved hyena's name was Frankie. The sculpture I was asked to create is a character study of Frankie, commissioned by a friend of the zoo who knew him well.