Toledo art showcased at zoo’s revamped aquariumWritten by Joel Sensenig | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
Thousands of eyes will soon be looking into the tanks of the Toledo Zoo’s renovated aquarium.
The handiwork of Toledo artists will demand attention is also given to objects outside of the water-filled exhibits — nearly two tons of glass tiles and an overhead, 18.5-foot-long man-eating fish will make sure of that.
Two businesses on Huron Street in Downtown Toledo — Gathered Art Gallery & Studios and Graphite Design + Build — created the two largest pieces of artwork featured in the aquarium, which opens to the public March 27.
Like any good shark this side of Steven Spielberg’s 1975 classic film “Jaws,” Graphite’s great white cannot be overlooked. Hanging in the aquarium’s entrance lobby, the creature is a realistic-looking piece of epoxy-coated Styrofoam.
“The shark is probably, overall, our best, realistic sculpture to date,” said Jeremy Link, who co-owns the three-year-old business with Douglas Kampfer. “Not taking anything away from anything we’ve done earlier, but it’s the most attention to detail that we’ve done to date.”
For Kampfer, it was a chance to pay homage to the shark sculpture that used to hang in the zoo’s aquarium. That shark, made of chicken wire and foam, was disintegrating after years on display.
“I fell in love with it when I first saw it, and I really never stopped thinking about it when I was at the zoo,” Kampfer said. “Everyone kind of sought it out, especially around Christmastime when it had the Santa hat on.”
Working with the zoo is nothing new to Link and Kampfer, who were finishing work on a Quetzalcoatlus northropi — the large prehistoric flying animal sculpture in the zoo’s reptile house — when they were approached about doing the dorsal-finned aquarium centerpiece.
“We’ve had a lot of history with the zoo the last couple of years. We’ve had a lot of different projects with them,” Link said. “I think from the beginning, they really liked our attention to detail and the way we could capture the realism of the animals we were sculpting.”
Link and Kampfer also created for the zoo a large saltwater crocodile and the animal masks children have enjoyed standing behind while getting their pictures taken.
The life-sized shark, which the creators unofficially named Betty White, weighs about 250 pounds — considerably less than the approximate 5,500 pounds an actual shark that size would weigh. They spent about two months on the beast, and another two and a half months on the rest of their works for the aquarium, including an octopus that will double as a hand sanitizer near the hands-on touch tank, as well as a circular piece showing the complete life cycle of a salmon, from an egg to a spawning adult.
They’re also creating a mechanical great white shark bust with exposed insides, where visitors can crank a wheel to see how jaw movement works on a muscular and skeletal level.
“It’s so kids can learn a little bit about the anatomy of a shark,” Link said. “We’re putting it at a height where kids can reach it and it’s easy enough to turn. You do eight turns and it will do a whole bite. It’s a slow thing so you can watch it happen.”
Being a part of the new aquarium is an honor not lost on Kampfer, who grew up coming to the zoo.
“We’re a part of that entire aquarium project,” he said. “We’re not just visiting the aquarium, we’re part of it.”
The aquarium is also a special place for Link: He’s having his wedding reception there later this year.
Also located near the entrance lobby, across from the Gulf of Mexico exhibit, is a mosaic of the Earth consisting of 1,368 6-by 6-inch glass tiles. Measuring 38 feet in length and 9 feet in height, the creation from Gathered Art Gallery & Studios consists of 18 rows, each containing 75 tiles.
The glass in the mosaic weighs 3,800 pounds, said Adam Goldberg, who co-owns Gathered with Mike Stevens and Eli Lipman.
“It’s not a perfect map, but it’s a mosaic that focuses on the oceans, since we’re in an aquarium,” Goldberg said.
Stevens said visitors may notice something unique about their version of the Earth’s surface.
“It’s also different in that most maps have the Atlantic in the middle. We put the Pacific in the middle,” he said. “Hawaii is pretty much in the middle of the map.
“I think [zoo officials] were trying to show the vastness of the oceans compared to land. When you look at it, clearly, most of the world is oceans,” Stevens said.
The project presented challenges the trio had not faced before. The scale of the mosaic, by far the largest they had worked on, presented a huge challenge.
“It was tough to initially conceive working on it and planning to work on a project that big, but then as moved along, it kind of became second nature,” Goldberg said.
Due to the project’s scope and need for Gathered to maintain personal projects and instructional classes at its location across from Fifth Third Field, the hot work for the glass was done at the Toledo Museum of Art’s Glass Pavilion. Assembly, gluing and preparation were done at the studio.
“We were able to maintain stuff we do here on a regular basis, and because the museum was an affordable rate, it made perfect sense to do all the work there and save our furnace for stuff we do here,” Goldberg said.
When it came time to put nearly two tons of glass up on the wall, the three artists (and sometimes an assistant) spent six to eight hours a day for one month, going back and forth from the zoo to their studios, where they would adhere more tiles to plastic brackets before going back to the zoo the next day and doing it all over again.
Now that the project is complete, the artists are looking forward to seeing their work at the aquarium’s grand opening.
“[The zoo] put lights on them that almost look like the reflection of moving water, so it kind of looks like moving water,” Lipman said.
“It looks better [than I envisioned],” Stevens said.
In addition to the mosaic, Gathered also made glass jellyfish at the aquarium located near the reef tank.
Also featured at the aquarium is a chalk drawing of a stingray created by Marjorie Ripple at Shared Lives Studio on North St. Clair Street. Shared Lives, a division of Lott Industries, is a nonprofit art studio that employs adults with developmental disabilities.
“We are thrilled that we are on a list of artists that will have work displayed at the new aquarium,” said art director Lori Schoen. Shared Lives artists are working on having a show in the zoo’s community gallery later this year and artists have been creating pictures of marine life, Schoen said. The studio will also celebrate the aquarium’s opening with a show of their own featuring artwork of fish and aquatic life.
“Our artists have been having a ball working on this and are very excited to see the new aquarium,” Schoen said. “I know when our work goes on display there in the future it will be an amazing accomplishment and source of pride for them. When you see your work in a public place like the zoo it makes you a part of community and gives your work validation. The exposure for us will be huge and I know it will be truly exciting for our artists here at Shared Lives.”
Jeff Sailer, executive director of the zoo, said it was important to feature local art in the aquarium.
“It’s really an elegant exhibit,” he said. “Coming from outside of Toledo to Toledo, I hadn’t really been made aware before coming here how vibrant the art scene is here. We have a lot of really great local artists and they produce some amazing work and I thought, here’s a great opportunity to get some art installed in what is going to be seen by over a million people.
“We bring in a lot of people from outside Lucas County as visitors, so being able to expose them to all Toledo has to offer is very, very important to us. The city has an amazing amount going for it, and I like taking every opportunity we can to reinforce to our visitors here that it’s really fun coming to Toledo.”
Other art featured in the aquarium was created by Sayaka Ganz, Commercial Flooring/Midwest Tropical and Benchmark Woodworking, as well as the zoo’s graphic and exhibit department.