Wednesday, May 22, 2013 —
In addition to seeing one of America’s best collections of plants and animals, visitors to the North Carolina Zoo can also enjoy one of the most extensive collections of artwork at any zoo in the United States.
The park’s art collection, now valued well in excess of $2.5 million, is as diverse as its plants and animals. Each piece is designed to support the zoo’s conservation mission. To this end, each artist becomes a communicator, an educator and an environmental activist who uses his or her work as a mirror to reflect back to us those elements in nature that we may no longer see or even think about – to help us reconnect to the natural world.
The collection’s first major piece was a 30-foot clay mural for the Sonora Desert exhibit, completed in 1993, depicting the flora and fauna of the desert Southwest. Since then, the collection has grown to include more ceramic murals, marble, steel, bronze and wood sculptures; photographs, prints, paintings and even original stories and poems.
Zoo visitors are treated to an art extravaganza even before they enter the gates. The centerpiece of the art collection, “Elephant Group,” greets visitors on the zoo’s approach drive. It’s a life-size bronze sculpture of four African elephants by New York artist Peter Woytuk. The four pieces, each weighing about 7,000 pounds, have become an icon for both the N.C. Zoo and Randolph County.
Some of the artwork is meant to leave the viewer with subtle messages. One sculpture, “Sum of the Parts” by Winston-Salem artist Dempsy Calhoun, graphically demonstrates the biodiversity of healthy ecosystems, as well as the devastation of species extinction. Some sculptures in the collection benefit the sight-impaired by helping them identify the animals through their sense of touch. But some pieces are there simply to delight and uplift visitors.