Email Us – or – CALL (757) 664-6200

New Exhibition Looks at the Plight of the Pachyderms

Wendy Maruyama's "The wildLIFE Project" opens Sept. 22

NORFOLK, Va. (August 25, 2016)—The illegal ivory trade is a multi-billion dollar a year industry, which some wildlife experts say has led to the slaughter of as many as 30,000 African elephants annually for their valuable tusks. Though poaching has persisted for centuries, at current rates most of these majestic animals might not survive another 10 years in the wild.

Through a poignant installation of life-sized objects made from exotic woods and string, as well as shrine-like forms crafted from steel and glass, the acclaimed furniture maker, educator, and artist makes a compelling case for the preservation of these endangered animals in the wild. The exhibition opens in the Chrysler's Glass Projects Space (Gallery 118) on National Elephant Appreciation Day, Sept. 22, 2016. Admission is free.

For 40 years Maruyama has been creating innovative furniture and art. Her earlier work often presented feminist themes in classic wood crafts, but her newest work moves beyond the boundaries of traditional studio craft and into the realm of social practice.

The wildLIFE Project focuses on the endangerment of elephants and rhinoceros, a cause that is very personal to Maruyama. On a recent sojourn to Kenya, she met with wildlife advocates to investigate the dangers of the continued poaching of these magnificent animals. The trip inspired her to create this new body of work that incorporates a strong societal message.

Maruyama captures the "trophy head of the hunt" in monumental form and size. In The wildLIFE Project, she presents a series of full-scale works as grand as the animals they represent. The artist constructed six life-sized elephant heads and trunks from panels of wood tied together with string. Their surfaces are finished in various earth tones, from grey to brown to brick red. One mask, named Satao after a high-profile Kenyan elephant that was killed for its massive tusks, reaches 12 feet high, necessitating its installation upstairs in the Chrysler's McKinnon Galleries of Modern and Contemporary Art. Each of Maruyama's titles connects the facial mask to an African theme or a particular elephant's story.

In keeping with her recent narrative direction, Maruyama's wildLIFE Project also integrates images and text into cabinet forms, adding a multisensory experience for the viewer. Her "shrines" are constructed from various woods, steel, and glass—raw materials that transfer emotion. Steel is immovable, heavy, and permanent, while glass is fragile and opaque when stacked together. Together they evoke the experience of elephants and other large animals whose lives are in danger.

Maruyama's Bell Shrine within the exhibition adapts the Buddhist ritual of honoring the dead and examines the meanings of different components of the Buddhist altar or Obutsudan.  The central object of reverence or worship (Gohonzon) is the elephant—tortured, killed, and driven almost to extinction by man. Flowers represent the impermanence of this gentle and majestic animal, and a candle symbolizes unchanging truth. Incense burns as an offering and an attempt to capture the spiritual state in the present moment, and a bronze bell rings throughout the day, marking the death of an elephant every 15 minutes. All of these components help make the viewer feel like a participant in a sacred ritual.

Another cabinet form, a striking, tall Cenotaph, further engages the viewer's senses through a video of a rhinoceros and vases of cut flowers to memorialize its needless death.  And Sarcophagus, a wooden reliquary with clear-glass sides, houses large hand-blown glass tusks, symbolizing the preciousness of both the elephant and the ivory for which it is sourced.

Maruyama, as an artist-in-residence at Pilchuck Glass School in May 2013, worked with professional glassmakers to create the heavy glass tusks, streaked with blood red at their widest point. Maruyama's combination of art and advocacy is designed to command both attention and action to preserve these wonders of the natural world.

"The social-practice component of Wendy Maruyama's artwork is successful in combining art, advocacy, education, and community," said Curator Elizabeth Kozlowski of The Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, which organized the traveling exhibition. "Her work manages to pull you in with stirring visuals and keep you engaged with multiple layers of content."

"I'm thrilled to be working with Wendy and the HCCC to bring this exhibition to the Chrysler," said Diane Wright, the Museum's Barry Curator of Glass. "My first encounter with Wendy was when she was a visiting artist at Pilchuck Glass School, making the glass tusks.  Her passion for creating beautiful and finely crafted work is matched by her commitment to these majestic animals."

Wendy Maruyama: The wildLIFE Project will be on view from Sept. 22, 2016, through Jan. 15, 2017. The exhibition is made possible by generous support from the Windgate Charitable Foundation. In addition to the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, this show has been on view at the Center for Art in Wood in Philadelphia and the Penland Gallery at Penland School for Crafts (N.C.). After its engagement here, the exhibition travels to the San Francisco Museum of Craft and Design (Feb. 11–June 4, 2017) and Oceanside Museum of Art, Oceanside, Ca., (Oct. 7, 2017–Feb. 11, 2018).

Wendy Maruyama is one of the first two women to graduate with a Master's degree in furniture making from Rochester Institute of Technology. Over the past four decades, she has exhibited her work nationally and internationally, and her work is included in the collections of Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston, Australia; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and more. For more information, see


The Chrysler Museum of Art is one of America's most distinguished mid-sized art museums, with a nationally recognized collection of more than 30,000 objects, including one of the great glass collections in America. The core of the Chrysler's collection comes from Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., an avid art collector who donated thousands of objects from his private collection to the Museum. In the years since Chrysler's death in 1988, the Museum has dramatically enhanced its collection and extended its ties with the Norfolk community. The Museum, expanded in 2014 to add additional gallery spaces and amenities for visitors, now has growing collections in many areas. The Chrysler also mounts an ambitious schedule of visiting exhibitions and educational programs and events each season.

The Chrysler Museum of Art, One Memorial Place, Norfolk, and its Perry Glass Studio at 745 Duke St., are open to the public Tuesday through Sunday. The Historic Houses on East Freemason Street are open weekends. General admission is free at all venues. For more information on the Chrysler Museum of Art, visit


Contact Amber Kennedy
(757) 340-7425

Download Press Release