When it comes to building monumental works of art, sculptor Gary DuChateau doesn't mess around. He's in the process of assembling a giant replica of a woolly mammoth that, when completed, will stand forty feet tall and fifty feet long. It will serve as the centerpiece of a roadside attraction being built just outside of Hot Springs, South Dakota. Hot Springs, in case you were wondering, is home to one of the largest digs for woollies in the world.
"During the Ice Age, there was a sink hole there where there was always water because of the geothermal springs," DuChateau explained. "This attracted the animals, which slid down the banks to drink, and then couldn't get back out again."
The brainchild of the late John Rock, former Vice President of General Motors, and Steve Simunek, a South Dakota businessman and philanthropist, the project is meant to remind the 1.5 million tourists who pass through each year of the area's prehistoric past.
The piece is phase one of an even grander project that will someday include a mother and baby mammoth, some additional prehistoric creatures, and a village of mammoth hunters. "The whole project may take another 15 years," DuChateau said. "It all depends on how much funding we can generate."
Interestingly, though he's been sculpting since he was a kid, DuChateau has never had any formal artistic training. Instead, he studied business administration at the University of South Dakota, and built a lucrative career for himself as a turnaround specialist for construction projects that had gone off the rails.
"I'd fly in, assess the situation, and get everybody back to work," he said. "It was a high stress job that paid so well I could have had a gold plated coffin at a very young age."
Sometime in the early '90s he was offered a job managing a prison construction project on the Indian Reservation at Pine Ridge. "Wounded Knee was still fresh," he said, "and I knew if I took the job, I'd be the least popular guy on the rez. I decided, the hell with it, I want to do art full time."
Which is how he came to trade in his $85,000 annual salary for a job at a local foundry that paid a whopping 5 bucks an hour. For his part, DuChateau could not have been happier. The foundry job put him in contact with artists like Peggy Detmers, who'd been commissioned by Kevin Costner to create a 1 1/4 scale bronze tableau of 14 buffalo being chased off a cliff by Indians on horseback.
"I worked with her for five years as project manager, mold maker, and general factotum," he said. "This was where I learned what it takes to do giant monumental sculptures."
In 2008, DuChateau moved to Loveland, where he set up a studio and began doing sculptural enlargements on a 3D copier he designed himself. Artists from all over the country send him maquettes (6"-18" tall models) which are placed on a slowly revolving turntable. The machine scans the model while simultaneously cutting out a full size replica made of styrofoam. The sheer size of the Mammoth required that it be broken down into 200 segments, each of which takes a full day to scan. The pieces are then glued together over an embedded armature and trucked to the site where it's welded onto a steel super-structure. Once assembled, the styrofoam will be covered with Dryvit, an inches-thick synthetic stucco reinforced with nylon mesh. The ultimate plan is to cover the entire assemblage with bronze.
Will the mammoth sculptures still be there in 2000 years? DuChateau is optimistic.
"I've always felt that if you look back at great civilizations, what's left behind is the art and architecture," he said. "This is what we'll leave behind as a statement of the level of our civilization. It's my way of leaving a legacy."
For more info:
Gary DuChateau www.duchateausculpture.com
Wanna help? www.RaiseTheMammoth.com
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