Animalia Rarissima by Susan Hagen

A Few Small Monuments For Endangered and Threatened Species

Animalia Rarissima is a series of small carved and painted wood monuments of animals selected from the Department of Endangered Species (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) list of 1,072 animals.

As a sculptor, I'm drawn to the infinite possibility and delightful variety in animal forms, in particular the diverse beauty of endangered and threatened animal species. Since rare animals are not a part of my daily environment, I have been forced to extrapolate many aspects of their form and personality, like early naturalists who used hearsay, conjecture, and imagination to create the first illustrated books of natural history in the 16th century. It is the loving attentiveness of natural history illustrations, from Konrad Gesner to John James Audubon, that I find compelling.

My sculptures celebrate the beauty of animals but also, like Nancy Grave's sculptures of camels and Walton Ford's paintings of extinct birds, examine the role that these diminished species have in a contemporary human world that is divorced from direct daily interaction with wildlife and the natural world. My ultimate goal in this series of monuments is to ponder the possible permanent destruction of these species as well as the potential for meaning and mythology.

Since 1983, I have worked primarily with wood, using subjects mined from interests as diverse as art history, mythology, psychology, natural history, and opera. My work requires large amounts of time and patience both in the development of ideas and the craftsmanship of embodying these ideas materially. The art of woodcarving is very time consuming but absolutely essential to my vision. My desire is to combine traditional craft with a visionary and expressive content. Animalia Rarissima developed out of a recent series of 60 sculptures titled The Tree Carpet Project, an allegorical garden of earthly delights made up of plants, trees, humans and animals.

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