Zoo Unveils New Chimpanzee Sculptures
June 18, 2002
Robert Hoage / 202-673-0209
Walter Chimpanzee Sculpture Group
"The Gathering" Comes to the National Zoo
A group of seven life-size chimpanzee sculptures in bronze, by acclaimed Maryland artist Bart Walter, is now a permanent part of the Smithsonian's National Zoo. Titled "The Gathering," the sculpture opened to the public June 18 in a newly created garden near the Zoo's Think Tank, where scientific inquiry about animal thinking is explained.
Adding important works of art to the Zoo is part of Zoo Director Lucy Spelman's ten-year Zoo-wide revitalization program. "Through our exhibits, including art like 'The Gathering,' we hope to inspire our visitors to develop stronger bonds with animals and motivate them to help protect nature," said Spelman. The Zoo's mission is to study, celebrate, and help protect the diversity of animals and their habitats.
Nonverbal communication and the individual roles within a great ape community are readily observable in "The Gathering" and educational graphics in the new garden include a puzzle-lesson that will help visitors learn about primate social structure.
National Zoo Associate Director for Biological Programs, Benjamin Beck, said, "The need to identify and remember hundreds of social acquaintances, differentiate among friends and competitors, and predict the outcomes of new social interactions on the basis of past interactions, is the essence of social life, and is thought to have contributed to the evolution of 'intelligence' in both humans and chimpanzees. 'The Gathering' eloquently evokes this force in our species' histories, and weaves us tightly into the primate social fabric."
"Many viewers enjoy reflecting on each piece in 'The Gathering' and can find something of themselves in certain figures. By their very presence, viewers become part of 'The Gathering' and with their own body language, participate in the group," says Walter.Each bronze in "The Gathering" portrays a chimpanzee fulfilling a different social role within its community. In the center of the installation is "the Matriarch," comfortably seated next to "the Servant" who reaches submissively toward his neighbor. The Matriarch's ragged right ear, possibly the result of a bite from another chimp, suggests that life among chimpanzees is not always so peaceful. "The Observer" sits upright and alert watching the entrance to the garden, while "The Alpha" controls the highest boulder and with commanding eyes and powerful out-stretched arms presides over his surroundings. To his right is "the Ally," as well as "the Explorer." A smaller and more delicate chimp figure is "the Youth."
Admission to the Smithsonian's National Zoo, located at 3001 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C., is free of charge. The Zoo's grounds are open daily during the summer 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., the buildings, 10 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Parking is limited. Visitors are encouraged to use the Metro Rail, Red Line, Woodley Park/Zoo or Cleveland Park stations that serve the Zoo.