Mary Engel’s lifelong love and respect for animals and the connection she feels with them has been her artistic inspiration for over thirty years. In 2002, Engel expanded her oeuvre from predominantly sculptures of dogs to include the wider animal kingdom. The upcoming exhibition introduces unique works including endangered species such as an orangutan, a blue whale, a cheetah, and a pangolin.
All of Engel’s animals are female. The pregnant bear is joined by an exquisitely rendered seated pregnant mare. The orangutan is named after Sandra, an orangutan who was granted “human-like” rights in 2014 but still lives in a dismal cell in Buenos Aires. While the bear and the wolf are not officially endangered, Engel was moved to create a palpably alive and threatened pregnant bear in hibernation after the Trump administration revoked an Obama administration protection against killing wolves and bears while they are hibernating.
Engel’s goal is to speak to the danger animals are in, as well to honor and celebrate their beauty and presence.
The first intentional burials with ritual objects occurred 35,000 years ago and, with them, the first expressions of human faith appeared. Engel is fascinated by the animal archetype as it is found in countless diverse cultures’ and it’s enduring religious, mythic, and aesthetic significance. For her, these images symbolize a bridge between the rational and instinctual worlds.
Many of the endangered animals depicted in recent sculptures have been covered with ammo to reveal the animal’s beauty and grace as well as draw attention to the atrocities perpetrated against them for their horns, tusks, heads and internal organs. Sculptures embellished with precious objects as well as everyday items often reminds the viewer of a different time or place. Engel's grandmothers button collection, dogs’ tags, broken watches, farm tools and porcelain animal collection were early intriguing items.
‘Hibernating Bear’ was created after the hunting restrictions were repealed in 2016. Bear baiting, hunting from the air, killing hibernating bears and wolves and their cubs on or near federally protected lands is now allowed. The female bears are often pregnant and give birth in their hibernation den. The pose of this sculpture is vulnerable yet muscled with large claws. Unfortunately, no law is in place and no amount of physical strength can protect her or her family.
‘Sandra’ was inspired by an orangutan living in the closed Buenos Aires zoo who was given ‘human like’ rights in a court of law in 2014. The sculpture is weighed down with thousands of copper chains and covered with brass found objects. ‘Sandra’ will travel to Chicago, Miami and Atlanta with information about her predicament, achieving human like rights yet still living in a dismal cell.
The sculptures are created using wire, mesh, plaster, epoxy and objects. Each piece is built from the paws or hooves up, is hollow and unique. Engel's aspiration is to create whimsical, animated creatures using gesture and ‘movement’ to capture a presence she feel animals possess.
Originally from Chicago Engel moved to Athens, GA in 1993. Her work has shown and been reviewed nationally since 1986 in galleries, art fairs and museums. Engel's work is held in private collections as well as institutions including Children’s Healthcare of Scottish Rite in Atlanta, The Arthur Blank Family Foundation, the Detroit Zoo, the Disney Corporation the President’s Collection of the University of Georgia and the United States Embassy, Rome, Italy. Museum exhibitions include Macon Museum of Arts & Sciences, Macon, GA, Museum of Contemporary Art, Atlanta, GA, Huntsville Museum of Art, Huntsville, AL, Asheville Museum of Art, Asheville, NC, and Fine Arts Museum of the South, Mobile, AL.