Oct 28, 2016 | By Alec

Over the past few decades, the attitudes towards fellow animals have changed dramatically, something which can be seen in the life of Tacoma’s Ivan the shopping mall gorilla. He spent decades as an attraction in the B&I Store in Tacoma, where he touched the hearts and minds of generations of visitors. But as our collective attitude towards animals changed (something Ivan certainly contributed to), the western lowland gorilla moved to Zoo Atlanta in 1994. When dying at the ripe old age of 50 a few years ago, Ivan received such an outpouring of love, that Form 3D Foundry and various charities have now immortalized the gorilla in a bronze statue made with 3D printing.

In many ways, Ivan’s story reflects how we as a society have all become aware of animal welfare, but it is also a heartwarming one. After all, it’s doesn’t happen every day that a gorilla receives a 600-pound bronze tribute, but then Ivan nestled himself into the hearts and minds of countless people from the Tacoma region. Posthumously, Ivan will now be served as a focus point in one of the largest urban parks in the United States, the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma, and will forever remind visitors of how important it is to help our fellow primates. And in a way, he will actually be there personally, as some of his ashes (and thus his DNA) are mixed into the bronze.

Ivan himself was brutally caught by wildlife traders in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, eventually being sold to the owners of the circus-themed B&I Circus Store shopping center (now the &I Public Marketplace). He spent a total of three decades living a solitary life there, but still managed to captivate a huge audience and became a hero of the community. “It would seem that everyone living in western Washington from the 1960s through the early 1990s knew Ivan, even those who had never encountered the silverback in person at a shabby shopping center on South Tacoma Way,” reporter Matthew Hickman from MNN recalled.

Living in 40 by 40 foot cement and steel enclosure with painted jungle murals, his life reflected cultural attitudes of the 1960s – a caged gorilla in a shopping mall was exciting, not depressing. It also gave Tacoma an identity, something the city was famous for, and huge crowds visited Ivan and the rest of the mall’s strange menagerie (also including a pair of chimpanzees and a baby elephant).

Wrong on so many levels, Ivan was part of owners .L. Bradshaw and E.L. "Earl" Irwin concept of amusement park meets store. Doing little more than finger painting, watching television and interacting with his trainers, Ivan’s life was quite lonely. “He was like a kid, always watching people. He loved scaring them,” Earl Irwin's son, Ron, recalled. “But there was something more. When you looked in his eyes, he was looking back at you. He understood what was going on.”

As the years passed, the novelty of the gorilla began to wear off as people became more concerned about the fate of endangered species. Even various activist groups began to campaigning for Ivan to be transferred to a zoo, while B&I began struggling financially. A National Geographic documentary also focused on Ivan’s plight, and eventually the 30-something gorilla was transferred to Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle in 1994, moving to Zoo Atlanta a year later. While he would continue to enjoy the company of humans, the western lowland gorilla quickly felt at home in the spacious living conditions of his new habitat. In August 2012, the famous gorilla died during surgery at the respectable age of 50.

While Ivan thus ended his life in dignity on the other side of the country, the gorilla is now coming back to Tacoma as a statue – though not at the mall where he once lived. Even the descendants of Earl Irwin did not feel it right to place the statue at the mall, which is now animal free. “It’s not only a statue, it’s a cause,” grandson Earl Borgert said. “I believe all our lives have a purpose, and Ivan’s life may have been to speak about his species.”

The 6-foot-tall statue, which has just been unveiled, has been placed at the entrance to Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. The statue will further be surrounded with informative panels, detailing Ivan’s unique story and the challenges faced by his species. As of right now, around 125,000 western lowland gorillas still live in Western equatorial Africa – faced by constant poaching and habitat loss. While the Tacoma Zoo doesn’t actually have gorillas in its care, president Eric Hanberg believes that the statue can play an important role nonetheless. “Its location outside one of the Northwest’s premier zoos, a place dedicated to the care and conservation of endangered species, reminds us all of the need to cherish the animals that inhabit the earth with us,” he said.

The decision to actually build this statue was made by local artist Douglas Granum, who used an iconic News Tribune photo of Ivan holding a flower for his model – though hundreds of other photos were also used to capture every detail. The Portland-based Form 3D Foundry was found more than willing to build the statue, as Ivan also played a significant role in the childhood of CEO Rob Arps – a Tacoma native. “There are a myriad of renderings of great apes from King Kong to beloved Ivan, and I wanted something that was kind and beautiful and really showed his spirit,” he said of the project.

To actually cover the expenses, the Beloved Ivan Project nonprofit organization was established, also with the goal of “increasing awareness and inspire action to preserve the habitat for Western lowland gorillas in the Congo, Africa.” More than$247,000 was gathered, mostly from foundations. The foundation also sought to raise an additional $20,000 through Indiegogo crowdfunding.

What’s more, the modeling process could not have been such a success without 3D printing. All in all, 110 3D printed segments were made to build a mold for Ivan – of which the head made a huge impression on onlookers. A 20,000-cubic-inch tub of pulverized acrylic powder was used to 3D print all the parts. The process has been ongoing for nearly three years, with much time going to capturing the subtleties of Ivan’s facial features and hands in 3D. After 3D printing, the parts were assembled and cast in bronze by Two Ravens Studio.

As Arps revealed, 3D printing and digital sculpting have already made it much easier and more efficient to design this statue. “I’m able to do things I never could have done before. We’re all in a choreographic mode to make this thing occur. When sculpting with clay, the artist is limited in what kind of changes can be made. With digital sculpting, changes can be made without affecting the overall project,” Arps said. “We can solve a series of problems very quickly, where before it would have taken months.”

To make the statue even more iconic, Granum revealed that they actually mixed in portions of the gorilla’s ashes into the 35 bronze crucibles that were poured. “[it’s] living being who shared attributes with us all,” the artist explained. A wide range of people touched by Ivan were present at the unveiling ceremony, including Irwin family members and primate specialists from Zoo Atlanta who cared for the silverback at the Zoo. “Ivan was a unique and special gorilla with a strong and distinctive personality,” assistant curator of primates at Zoo Atlanta Jodi Carrigan recalled. “His legacy is tremendous, and it’s a legacy that will always live to benefit his species.”

 

 

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