The art of evolution: A West Quebec artist sculpts Darwin for the Smithsonian
OTTAWA -- He may live in the middle of the nowhere, but David Clendining’s creations are everywhere.
Around downtown Ottawa, the West Quebec artist’s bronze sculptures and plaques adorn the Centennial Flame, the National War Memorial, the Animals in War Memorial, and Canada’s Confederation Boulevard.
Clendining fashions his pieces in a remote studio in Lac-des-Loups, but they’re showcased in some of the most prestigious museums in the world, including the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.
“Quite honestly I was thrilled. The Smithsonian’s a big deal, as we all know,” he says. “There are so many great artists they could have chosen. Why they chose me, I don’t know. I’m thrilled that they did. I was quite honoured.”
The museum asked Clendining if he might be interested in sculpting a life-size statue of a young Charles Darwin, the naturalist, biologist and geologist best known for his theory of evolution.
“I said ‘Yes, of course.’ Charles Darwin has been a hero of mine since I was a kid. I started learning about Darwin and his Galapagos travels when I was a young boy and I envied him. I really wanted to have such a life myself.
“The bold, courageous moves he made at the time to disregard creationism and discuss evolution, to do all that research in the field in very adverse conditions, well, the guy’s courageous. He’s an amazing man, so I was very happy to be doing a statue of him all these years later.”
After a ‘rather extensive’ interview process, curators at the Smithsonian agreed Clendining was the sculptor for the job.
They said, ‘Yes, you’re the one we want to do this, we like your sense of action.”
The drawings, carvings and moulds would consume Clendening for much of the year.
“All in all, it was probably eight months, from start to actually delivery date, bronze cast and actual installation.”
The sculpture is in the Smithsonian’s Deep Time Hall. Clendining was moved when he viewed his finished work for the first time.
“This is his ‘ah-hah; moment. He’s reading an inscription on a wall that’s twenty feet up, twenty feet away and that’s his theory of evolution.”
“When I saw the whole thing come together—not just the statue—but the whole presentation, it was awesome. Beautiful, beautiful design work. A very difficult job but the difficult jobs are often the best jobs, too.”
In his Lac-des-Loups workshop, nestled in the snow-covered trees of the Gatineau Hills, Clendining is now sculpting a local legend and world-famous flying ace.
“Roy Brown was a World War 1 aviator, from Carleton Place, as it turns out. He was the one credited with shooting down the Red Baron,” he said.
And the 65-year-old artist is excited to see what future projects are in his sights.
“Oh, I’m having a blast. Life’s such an adventure. Every day I wake up and say ‘Yippee, what am I going to do today?’ What could be better than that?”