Darwin’s Evolution

Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon, Portugal 

In 2009, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon, Portugal, commemorated the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of his groundbreaking masterpiece, The Origin of Species. The foundation’s exhibit, Darwin’s Evolution, explained Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection, and examined the profound impact his ideas had on biology, sociology, politics and religion. 

Wildlife Preservations (WP) recreated some of the most significant and influential encounters experienced by Darwin on his voyage aboard the HMS Beagle. Our artists produced models of Galapagos marine iguanas, land iguanas, Sally Lightfoot crabs, and a death mask of the rare Javan rhinoceros. Another creatively designed prototype was an octopus in a jar depicting a wet specimen. Bird models included swallow-tailed gulls, lava gulls, a lesser rhea, a magnificent frigatebird, vermillion flycatchers, a flightless cormorant and a pair of blue-footed boobies.

Wildlife Preservations also created various mammal models, including a giant grmadillo, a dwarf armadillo, and a juvenile orangutan named "Jenny." The actual Jenny was an orangutan at the London Zoo, and the first primate ever seen in England. In deference to Victorian standards of decency, Jenny’s keepers dressed her in the clothing of a young girl, which made her seem, in the words of Queen Victoria, “…frightful, and painfully and disagreeably human.” Darwin was fascinated by the many similarities he observed between the behaviors of Jenny and those of his one-year old daughter. These observations were the spark of inspiration for Darwin's most controversial hypothesis – that humans evolved from apes.

WP has produced models for several Darwin exhibits, assembling a large inventory of molds, study casts, and reference material.  George and his staff were granted access to the exhibition and collections departments at the world-renowned American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). During several days there, they took molds and examined many rare specimens. WP was also able to secure a number of specimen loans, such as a jar of Sally Lightfoot crabs, collected on the Galapagos Islands over 100 years ago.  Curators at the AMNH gave George permission to make molds of these specimens in order to produce several polymer copies for the exhibit.

The most complex of the models created for Darwin’s Evolution was not an animal, but rather, a reproduction of the daisy tree, Scalesia pedunculata. This eight-foot tall artificial tree is comprised of over 500 hand-painted leaves and dozens of blossoms, sculpted and cast to accurately represent this tree’s unique characteristics. Working with AMNH’s curatorial staff and botanist, WP paid meticulous attention to detail and succeeded at replicating this tree, for which so little descriptive information is available.

WP produced ecologically accurate groundforms for many of the models in this exhibit. These groundforms depict a wide variety of terrain and geology from diverse areas of the Galapagos Islands and South America.

Darwin’s Evolution was based on the original exhibit organized by the following museums: The American Museum of Natural History, New York; The Museum of Science, Boston; The Field Museum, Chicago; The Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto; The Natural History Museum, London.  “Darwin’s Evolution” ran from February 12th to May 24th, 2009. 

To view more images, click the links below:

To learn more about this exhibit, visit the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation web site, here.

© 2009 Wildlife Preservations, LLC.  Site designed by Petra Manis and John Scott Lucas. 
Unless otherwise noted, all photos on this page © Wildlife Preservations, LLC. or The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation