Carroll sculptor likes 'monkey business' Artist does work for Goodall institute CENTRAL -- Union Mills * Westminster * Sandymount * Finksburg

December 21, 1992|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff Writer

The bronze chimpanzee sits in a studio in Pleasant Valley with its arms folded protectively around its body and gazes into the middle distance, creating a sense of sadness and loss.

Like most of the birds and animals created by W. Barton Walter, the chimp, titled "Contemplation," will not be staying in the quiet studio, which is surrounded by a wildlife preservation area where the sculptor can watch many of his subjects in action.

The chimp's destination is the entrance to the Jane Goodall Institute for Wildlife Research, Education and Conservation in Tucson, Ariz., where it will look out at palms and shrubs that grace a Spanish quarter near the University of Arizona.

To create the piece, Mr. Walter said he took "a wild chimpanzee and imagined it in a zoo setting."

As an artistic challenge, he also wanted to see how much expression and feeling he could get in a very compacted figure.

The three bronze otters will be leaving the studio, too. They are bound for the Baltimore Zoo, where two will be placed in the center of a frog pond in the main valley. The third will sit at the edge of the pond.

The chimpanzee will join several of Mr. Walter's works owned by the Goodall institute. The institute presents copies to winners of its annual environmental awards and an award for outstanding contributions to the conservation of chimpanzees.

His connection with the institute began with a chance meeting with the famous naturalist, who began field studies of chimpanzees on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Africa 32 years ago.

In 1987, Dr. Goodall was visiting the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., where Mr. Walter and his wife, Lynn, were living while Mrs. Walter completed a master's degree in biology. Professors there praised Mr. Walter's work, and Dr. Goodall suggested that he should do a chimp.

"I said, 'Yes, yes,' and walked away," Mr. Walter recalled.

But Dr. Goodall followed him and convinced him she was serious, he said.

The sculptor, who had never observed chimpanzees in the wild, spent two years sketching captive chimps and watching videos of the animals before he felt comfortable submitting a piece to a woman who had known many chimpanzees.

Mr. Walter describes his work as impressionistic. The surface is textured, the musculature defined. He said he seeks "the essence of the animal, leaving out the details of hair or feathers."

One of the challenges, he said, is knowing when to put down the clay, when to stop.

"Several years ago, I said, 'I should stop here while I've got the essence instead of prettying it up,' " he said.

He declined to discuss the prices of his works. But the bronze casting process is costly, and he usually casts a limited edition of each work, five to 10 copies.

Even the copies are not all alike because of changes he makes at the foundry during the process, he said.

The otters will be donated by the zoo's docents organization. The chairwoman of the fund-raising effort, who refused to allow her name to be used, said the organization has raised the $7,000 needed to pay for the sculpture and she hopes to see it in place by spring.

"Contemplation" will be given to the Goodall institute by an anonymous donor. Robert J. Edison, executive director of the institute, said he had not been told the name of the donor, but he understands that the work may be valued at about $20,000.

Mr. Edison said he hopes the "Contemplation" will arrive in the spring, the season Dr. Goodall usually spends at the Tucson headquarters. He would like to tie a ceremony or event to the work's arrival, although he has not yet made definite plans.

The Goodall institute coordinates a worldwide network of projects that includes personal appearances by Dr. Goodall, fund-raising, publishing educational materials and "Roots and Shoots," a new international program that Mr. Edison said is to give children "a sense of the importance of every individual to the overall balance of the Earth."

Mr. Walter, a native Baltimorean, and Mrs. Walter, who he met in college, moved to Pleasant Valley from Williamsburg five years ago. Mrs. Walter is devoting her time to the care of their two daughters, Katie, 5 and Becky, 2. It's a challenge that Mr. Walter said occasionally "makes me glad all I have to do is go out and sculpt."

He has made his living as a sculptor for 11 years. His father wanted him to study something practical in college, so he earned a degree in biology from Hiram College, in Hiram, Ohio, in 1980.

Before going on with his plan to earn a doctorate and become a research scientist, he took a year off to pursue a boyhood interest in wood carving, "to reward myself for four years of biology," he said.

He found he didn't want to stop at the end of the year. He had learned about bird behavior, about what the body postures of animals communicate. He had taken art courses in college, but the emphasis had been on abstract work. So he studied art in books and went to art museums.

He stopped working in wood and went to clay studies that could be cast in bronze because he felt the clay could give more power and feeling than he could convey in wood.

Mr. Walter has done a few human figures -- a seated man, leaning back and contemplating an apple; his daughters, when Katie was 4 and Becky was 1. But most of his market has been in wildlife.

He is working on a bald eagle for a building in Laurel and preparing for a one-man show in Reading, Pa.

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