The Singapore Dodo
Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, Singapore
The dodo was first encountered by Dutch sailors on the remote island of Mauritius in 1598. Less than one hundred years later, this flightless bird was extinct, an unfortunate victim of invasive species introduced by Europeans.
Wildlife Preservations worked in collaboration with Phil Fraley Productions to create a dodo model for the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research in Singapore. The nine week process began with a trip to the American Museum of Natural History, in New York City, where the artists of Wildlife Preservations took measurements and photos of dodo bones from the collections of the Ornithology Department. The museum generously provided casts of a dodo skull and of the famous dried dodo head from Oxford University Museum of Natural History.
After the Raffles Museum approved a preliminary sketch, George began sculpting a quarter-scale maquette. This small figure allowed both the sculptor and the client to experiment and visualize the project before committing to a full-sized sculpture. Throughout the process, dodo historian Julian Pender-Hume, PhD, and ornithologist Anwar Janoo, PhD, provided invaluable advice that ensured the scientific accuracy of the maquette and of the completed model.
Following the approval of the maquette, George began work on the full-sized model. The rough form of the body was built in foam. It was then covered in clay and carefully sculpted to create muscle mass and major features on the bird.
After additional consultations with the dodo experts and the curators in Singapore, George made final adjustments to the basic forms and began to carve the details. Each feather was carefully inscribed in the clay by hand. Once this labor-intensive work was complete, the head, wings and legs were attached to the body of the dodo. A mold was taken from the clay sculpture, and was used to create an epoxy cast.
Dr. Pender-Hume and Dr. Janoo agreed that the most accurate painting of the dodo was one by the Mughal artist, Ustad Mansur, which is thought to be one of the only full color illustrations of a dodo painted from life. George used this illustration to plan his color palette. It took only two days to prime and paint the dodo. The resulting dodo model portrayed scientifically accurate proportions, detail and color. As Dr. Pender-Hume commented, it was "...a work of art with scientific clout."
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