Work destined for LA Zoo
Berrien's California Condor wire sculpture soars over the entry to the
Los Angeles Zoo.
|LOMPOC, 1988: When she was a
Elizabeth Berrien decided she wanted to be a zoologist when she grew
up. Instead, she became an artist specializing in finding, twisting and
turning different types of wire into elaborate sculptures. Not
surprisingly, many of her pieces depict animals, from the whimsical
domestic cat she entered in the Lompoc Valley Art Association's spring
show in April to the 18-foot long Pegasus she was commissioned to
sculpt for the Standiford Field air terminal in Louisville, KY.
Now a new commission from the Los Angeles County Zoo promises to bring
Berrien's love of sculpture, animals and things zoological together for
two projects: creating life-size sculptures of a California Condor in
flight and a bongo antelope.
"Both of these animals are symbolic of the Los Angeles Zoo," said
Stewart Ritter, development director of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo
Association (the non-profit organization that supports the zoo). "We
are part of the California condor recovery program and have one of the
leading success rates among zoos breeding the bongos." Ritter said the
bongo was even used in the zoo's logo for many years.
Berrien's California condor will be suspended by cables above the zoo's
main walkway area sometime this summer, Ritter said. The artist has a
bit more time to work on the Bongo, since it will go on display in
front of the zoo's administration building which is still under
This isn't the first time Berrien has worked with zoos and similar
institutions. She sculpted from life at Marine World/Africa USA as an
artist-in-residence and has already donated and loaned (respectively)
life-size sculptures of a sable antelope and a black rhino head to the
Los Angeles County Zoo.
Berrien's condor and bongo pieces are funded by a $10,000 Arco
Foundation grant intended to initiate a program of art in the zoo, said
Ritter. There are no immediate plans for other art works, but Ritter
said the zoo most likely will commission more sculptures because they
can withstand the weather.
In the meantime, Berrien is busy researching her subjects and getting
the details right. In the process of creating the perfect California
condor, Berrien said she had been given rare access to observe the
birds in their enclosures at the zoo.
"They're sort of sweet-looking little things. They think they're cute,
as a matter of fact," Berrien said, relating her experiences watching a
young male condor named Sequoia prance around in front of an older
Using photgraphs and memories of what she observed through the blind,
Berrien wired four different condor heads before she was satisfied with
her work. When a woman involved in the condor recovery program was able
to tell Berrien exactly which bird it was, the artist knew she was on
the right track.
Berrien hopes to have the Condor finished by the end of June, when
she'll jump straight into the bongo project. Both pieces will be
sculpted using aluminum and stainess steel wire, then coated with paint
"to make them last forever", Berrien said.
[Berrien was the subject of a valley Living cover story December 13,
|Elizabeth Berrien twists heavy
rods with her bare hands to sculpt highly detailed, individual feathers
onto the wing of her California Condor wire sculpture.
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