An artistic creation will be the newest feature added to Iowa’s “Great Ape Trust.” They’ve hauled in an eleven-ton block of limestone and hired a sculptor, and Rob Shumaker says he’s been commissioned to carve a portrait of an orangutan. He weighs about 270 pounds and has a 9-foot arm-span from fingertip to tingertip. He’s a “particularly handsome” adult male orangutan, says Shumaker, “at least in my opinion and the opinion of every adult female he’s ever met.” The scientist says he and the ape have basically been research partners for the last 12 years.
Shumaker is one of the lead scientists at the research center in central Iowa, and says the great apes are well worth honoring with a statue. The undertook the project to commemorate Azy as the first male orangutan to arrive on the campus, noting if a man or woman had been the first to participate in such a new project, there’d likely be a sculpture of them. He adds the apes are a natural subject for art. “We are interested in art that enhances our everyday lives,” Shumaker says, “We are interested in art as an expression of our interest and appreciation for great apes, we are interested in art as a measure of behavior and mental ability, and we’re interested in art from the point of view of the great apes — what kind of art do they produce, and what do they enjoy in terms of creative expression?”
Shumaker says male apes typically monitor their territory and Azy’s clearly interested in the progress of the sculpture, when the Ohio artist is in town and the weather permits him to work on it.The ape can go up to the third floor of the building he lives in and watch the sculptor, David Petlowany, carve the likeness — and in fact Azy does that very regularly, Shumaker says. For humans who’d like to keep an eye on the progress of the work, there’s a webcam at their site, “Iowa-great-apes-dot-org.”