Elk sculptures at Weir Farm in Wilton
A herd of elk can be seen peering out behind grass and stone walls on the grounds of Weir Farm.
But don’t be concerned. Unlike flesh and blood elk, these are made of shiny aluminum and are part of the “Conservation from Here” exhibition by Pacific Northwest artist Joseph Rossano.
The exhibition features 28 full-scale aluminum sculptures, known as “The Roosevelt Elk Herd,” and are stylized to mimic real elk, grouped in ways that blend into the natural landscape.
The elk are on display outside near Weir Farm’s visitor’s center, and are open for public viewing until Oct. 31.
Jessica Kuhnen, museum technician at Weir Farm, helped install the elk, arranging them so they can be seen from several different vantage points. “We worked with the artist by phone to arrange the elk in realistic groupings. You’ll see female elk and babies together, with the females keeping an eye out for predators. Male elk are farther away, watching and protecting the herd,” she said.
“The park is really excited to have an exhibit that focuses on art and conservation,” Kuhnen said.
Made from recycled aluminum donated by the Alcoa Corporation, the sculptures are lightweight and flexible, Kuhnen said. When the exhibition has stopped touring, the elk will be returned to a smelter for further recycling, “effectively completing their own circle of life,” according to Weir’s exhibition guide.
The goal of the exhibition is to synthesize art and science. According to the guide, “Rossano’s art leads viewers to the understanding that for each of us, conservation begins wherever ‘here’ might be … a moment in time ... a longstanding or newly formed perspective … a physical place we inhabit or otherwise hold dear.”
“Conservation from Here” is centered on the Roosevelt Elk (Cervus elaphus roosevelti), named after Theodore Roosevelt who served as the 26th president of the United States from 1901 to 1909.
In the book, “Greatness in the White House,” Roosevelt is considered one of the top five U.S. presidents. Among Roosevelt’s accomplishments was initiating a domestic program called the “Square Deal” which had three basic components: conservation of natural resources, control of corporations, and consumer protection.
Under the program, Roosevelt embraced anti-trust laws to stop monopolies in the railroad and beef industries, enacted food and drug laws to ensure product purity, and facilitated the construction of the Panama Canal.
He also championed conservation issues and protecting natural resources.
Roosevelt set aside more federal land for national parks and nature preserves than all of his predecessors combined. He established the U.S. Forest Service, signed into law the creation of five national parks and established the first 51 bird reserves and 150 national forests.
In 1893, before he was president, Roosevelt attended the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and examined the displayed heads of several of elk that were native to the area of the Olympic Mountains in Washington state.
He identified characteristics of those elk that were unique from the more common Plains elk. Experts agreed the elk was a distinct subspecies and referred to it as Roosevelt’s Wapiti, then officially naming it the Roosevelt elk.
As president, Roosevelt initially attempted to create a National Elk Reserve in the Olympic Mountains in Washington, but Congress did not approve it.
As a result, by 1909, the Roosevelt elk herd had shrunk dramatically and was hitting critical levels for survival and facing extinction.
So Roosevelt signed into law the Antiquities Act, which protects public lands. Under the act, he created Mount Olympus and 615,000 acres surrounding it were designated a national monument that was off-limits to any kind of hunting, timbering, or extraction.
As a result, the Roosevelt elk herd was able to repopulate and thrive on Mount Olympus, now known as Olympic National Park.
“It was interesting to learn from the exhibit that an entire group of elk was named after Theodore Roosevelt because he was instrumental in them not becoming extinct,” said Kuhnen.
The “Conservation from Here” exhibition was previously on display at Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, the home of President Roosevelt. Part of the herd was also exhibited on the National Mall, at the base of the U.S. Capitol steps, for Earth Day, April 22, 2018.
Weir Farm National Historic site is at 735 Nod Hill Road in Wilton, and is open daily from dawn until dusk. For more information, call 203-834-1896.