For more than 50 years, former B&I stalwart Ivan the Gorilla has been a fixture in the Tacoma lexicon. Anyone over 20 years old who was raised here probably has a story about meeting the western lowland silverback gorilla, and now a new generation will have a way to make memories with Ivan in the form of a bronze sculpt created by artist Douglas Granum.
In 1964, Ivan was sold to the Irwin family, the owners of the B&I department store in Tacoma, and moved to an indoor enclosure in the store just three years later. Throughout the 70’s and 80’s, Ivan became a star in Tacoma. In 1994, Ivan was adopted by Zoo Atlanta, officially moving to Georgia in 1995. After 17 years at the zoo, Ivan passed away in 2012. But Ivan’s Legacy is something that will always be felt in Tacoma. And now, Ivan has returned home one last time in the form of Granum’s Bronze Sculpture of Tacoma’s beloved gorilla. Not only will the statue bring the presence of Ivan back to the hearts and minds of Tacoma citizens; Ivan’s physical ashes will be imbued throughout the sculpture.
“In each crucible of molten bronze, we’re putting a small ceremonial portion of his ashes so when you come up and touch the sculpture you’ll be rubbing bronze but rubbing Ivan at the same time,” Granum said.
The statue will stand over six feet tall and will be displayed at the entrance of Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium. Materials around the sculpture will inform visitors about lowland gorilla conservation. Funding for the sculpture was provided by the Beloved Ivan program, a group of fundraisers dedicated to serving Ivan’s memory and sharing knowledge on western lowlands gorillas. So far, funds raised have exceeded $160,000.
“I started reading up on gorillas and western lowland gorillas, which is what Ivan was,” Beloved Ivan the Gorilla fundraiser Jane Shanaman said. “I learned that gorillas are very misunderstood, that they really are gentle, family oriented, caring, they have a lot of human characteristics and emotions. All of a sudden it meant that we have an opportunity to tell a generation of children that will never see a live gorilla that he is not King Kong – that gorillas are very different. We’re going to have interpretive materials at the zoo that tell the real story of gorillas so future generations of children, children that will climb around on Ivan or swing on his arm or whatever, understand that this species is gentle and kind and more than that it is endangered. This species is at risk, going from hundreds of thousands of lowland gorillas down to about 60,000. We need to think about that as human beings because they are a cousin.”
Granum is a local artist who takes his influence from his travels all around the world. His most recent work is “The Big Catch,” a sculpture in Gig Harbor depicting a photograph taken in 1909. He was elected from a group of artists three years ago to craft the sculpture.
“I had a certain naiveté when I started to sculpt Ivan. I held the idea that all gorillas look the same but if you look at them that is completely a falsehood. All gorillas are as different as anyone in this room and any room you want to find. What I discovered right away is that I was doing portraiture. I had to really find Ivan for almost a year,” Granum said. “None of this happens without a whole support group around me. I am surrounded by a tremendous team of people making this happen. I’m just one small cog in that.”
Granum has created a lot of art over the years but has found a special connection in the Ivan sculpture.
“Not every art work is the same and not every artwork has the gravitas that this art work has. This work has legs of its own because there’s a huge part of the world that loves primates. It’s important to me to bring attention to the plight of the gorilla. Their numbers are going down, habitat encroachment primarily man made the cause. How often do we have the opportunity to walk up and stare a gorilla in the eye or touch him? There’s just a lot of interest and it’s exciting to be a part of that,” Granum said. “Ivan’s representation is more than a bronze; it is portraiture of a living being who shared attributes with us all.”
The sculpture should be completed this summer. Ivan’s ashes will be mixed with bronze periodically until that time. Placement of the sculpture at Point Defiance is unscheduled at this time. For more information on the Beloved Ivan the Gorilla organization, visit www.belovedivan.org.