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May 21, 2019

Students develop artwork, videos, materials for Detroit Zoo

Michigan State University students, faculty and researchers are the creators and driving force behind a new exhibit and one-of-a-kind sculpture now on display at the Detroit Zoo

The “Snares to Wares Initiative: Capacity for Change” exhibition opened May 8 in the Detroit Zoo’s Wildlife Interpretive Gallery and will be available for viewing until March 2020.

The centerpiece of the exhibit is a life-size lion sculpture made from illegal snare traps that were removed from a national park in Uganda as part of MSU’s Snares to Wares Initiative. The wire snares are removed to prevent wildlife from being injured or poached. These snares are then turned into pieces of art, which are sold. 

Commissioned by the Detroit Zoo, leaders, students and friends of the initiative came together to create a life-size lion sculpture.

Richard Tanner, senior Studio Art Sculpture major, teamed up with Sophia Jingo and Charles Settler, head artisans from the Snares to Wares Initiative, to create the piece.

The snare art lion design is based on a real lion, called Butcherman, who once roamed Murchison Falls National Park near Pakwach, Uganda, where the Snares to Wares Initiative began. Several years ago, Butcherman’s leg became trapped in a wire snare, and when park officials found him, they had to perform emergency surgery in the field to amputate his leg.

Butcherman recovered and survived three more years with only three legs and the help of other male and female lions. Right before the Snares to Wares Initiative was founded in 2015, Butcherman and his son, Bosco, disappeared from Murchison Falls and haven’t been seen since.

“We want to put Butcherman on a pedestal to show that he sacrificed something for our awareness,” Tanner said.

To create the sculptures of Butcherman and his cubs, Jingo and Settler traveled from Uganda to MSU’s campus where they worked with Tanner from March until May. They utilized the Department of Art, Art History and Design’s sculpture facility. Professor Laura Cloud, sculpture coordinator, and Michael McCune, technical support staff, also helped. 

The piece sits on a wooden frame made from reclaimed wood at MSU. The frame was built by the MSU Shadows Collection, which reclaims downed trees from campus and works with artisans to build furniture.

“You have the sculpture built with the snares from Uganda and you have a base built with the fallen trees from Michigan State,” Tanner said. “It’s a magical thing really if you think about it.”

Students enrolled in the Snares to Wares Initiative course also developed materials, such as graphics, posters and videos, to be displayed with the sculpture. The course was led by Robert Montgomery, assistant professor in MSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and director of the RECaP Laboratory, and Ron Iwaszkiewicz, instructor and specialist in the School of Packaging. They were joined by four student coaches – Abby Pointer, Haley Abbas, Waldemar Ortiz and Travis Wesenberg – all alumni from last year’s course.

Professional writing students Caroline Johnson and Kara Headley developed a video for the exhibit, which features the three artisans. 

Other students in the course created posters for the “Snares to Wares Initiative: Capacity for Change” exhibition that provide additional information about Butcherman, the artisans and Snares to Wares.

Currently, snare art sculptures are for sale via the Initiative’s website as well as at MSU's Surplus Store and the Detroit Zoo’s Zoofari Market. Proceeds support community artisans and wildlife conservation.

To learn more about the initiative, visit the Snares to Wares Initiative website or follow them on FacebookTwitter or Instagram.

By: Kimberly Popiolek