Sculpture Zoo

Sculpture zoos have captured imaginations for generations. Explore the Zoo’s collection of animal sculptures.

NSS sculptors are experienced at modeling “en plein air,” or outdoors, as the best way to study animal behavior and anatomy. They will be positioned around the zoo to engage with visitors and answer questions.

Look for them near Billy, Duck Girl or Lion Crushing a Serpent.

Animals in Art

Throughout history artists have used animals as metaphors for many things. In paintings, for example, a dog can symbolize anything from fidelity to treachery to seduction. Using animal symbols in art can create many different interpretations of the artwork, which is why it is important for artists to choose their subject carefully.

Artists also have to think about the ethics of using animals in their work. For example, if an artist uses real animals in their work they may be in danger of getting caught up in animal rights debates. For example, Damien Hirst’s exhibitions often attract protesters from animal rights groups for his use of sharks and other live creatures.

But the use of animals in art can also be positive. For example, an artist like Adam Matano can use their work to educate people about endangered species. He can use his sculptures to raise awareness of the need for conservation in the world’s wildlife habitats.

Sculpture at the Zoo

The Zoo’s animal collection is augmented by sculptures in our galleries, courtyards, plazas and mezzanine. Whether playful or serious, these artworks are an important part of the Zoo experience.

Some artists sculpt animals in an approachable manner, like Roth, while others are more realistic. A prime example of the latter is Tigress and Cubs, by Auguste Cain. It portrays a tigress with her bared fangs and tense muscles presenting a dead peacock to her cubs.

At the zoo, the sculpture learning plaza is designed for touch and includes multiple construction materials that provide realistic textures. This allows visually impaired visitors to explore the artworks using a sense of touch instead of sight.


The sculptures at the zoo were created by a number of talented artists. Each sculptor had their own style and approach to the animals they portrayed. Some, like Gwynn Murrill, have a gift for portraying the primal essence of their subjects.

She was known for her representations of ethnic women, but she also experimented with depicting wildlife in her work. The lovable grouping of penguins in the Michigan Stream plaza is one example.

In addition to carving the sea lions from foam, Lora sculpted 3-inch-high maquettes and placed them on scale model replicas of their future rock bases. Megan Dattoria scanned the rocks and Chris Hollshwander cut them using the CNC router to ensure that the statues and their bases would fit together like puzzle pieces.

After MSU students built a life-size snare art giraffe for the Snares to Wares initiative, the Zoo asked the initiative leaders and students to create a life-size bronze giraffe to be displayed in the IQ building. Senior Studio Art Sculpture major Richard Tanner and his team worked on the project with Sophia Jingo and Charles Settler from the Snares to Wares Initiative.

Sculptures at the Zoo in History

There are a number of sculptures at the Zoo made by well-known sculptors. A beautiful lion pride bronze sculpture by Tom Tischler can be found in the African Safari area. The statues of a male lion, a lioness with four cubs and the female with her young are often the backdrop for visitors’ photos. Another sculpture by Tom Tischler is a Komodo dragon near the Islands habitat. There is also a bronze of Winnie the Pooh created by William Timym in Tiger Territory.

Unlike traditional zoos that charge admission and contain exotic animals, Swetsville Zoo in Fort Collins, Colorado is a sculpture park that features acres and acres of animal-themed art. This unique public art attraction is a true ode to the untamed allure of nature and can bring the same rustic, yet sophisticated appeal to your home as these metal sculptures.

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