Commuters to and from the Hollywood section of Brookfield, as well as visitors by train to the Brookfield Zoo, may have noticed the work going on at both platforms of Hollywood’s Zoo Stop. Metal fences surrounded the work areas for safety reasons, but are now removed.
This is all part of the “Communities in Nature” project, a joint venture between the Brookfield Zoo’s Creative Services Department and the Brookfield Beautification Commission.
The “mushrooms,” as the zoo calls them, received the “lion’s share” of the refurbishment and improvement, but the lions are being taken care of, too.
Visually, the “mushrooms” were never especially eye-catching, having been painted a reddish brown, but they served as shelter and seating for persons waiting for the trains. However, they have been recently painted with scenes of animals amidst natural backgrounds. Matthew Owens of Brookfield Zoo is the artist here. According to Sondra Katzen, a spokeswoman for the zoo, the painting was done by personnel from both the Exhibits Department and the zoo’s Paint Shop.
“What we are trying to do at the Zoo Stop is to reflect the community’s commitment to trees and nature,” said Andre Copeland, interpretative programs manager for the Chicago Zoological Society, which operates Brookfield Zoo.
“Each mushroom represents four different areas — North America, South America, Africa, and Asia — and on each one are different types of trees and vegetation, and the animals that relate to them.”
The work began after the morning rush on Sept. 3. After finishing the colorful scenes, the mushrooms were sealed with a protective coating. Work wrapped up in early October. But there’s still more work to do at the site.
“We are concentrating on repairing the ‘Pride of Lions’ statue,” said Copeland. “The lion cub has been saved and will once more be a part of the Zoo Stop.”
Longtime Hollywood residents remember the impressive trio of lions, created by Art Institute of Chicago graduate Timothy Barnes. The ensemble was formally put on display 27 years ago, on Friday, Sept. 26, 1986. Barnes worked on the lions for a year, using photographs, information and actual onsite lion-viewing sessions at the zoo.
Barnes’ goal in creating the statue was not to follow the tradition of a male lion being shown as ferocious, but to show one interacting in a gentler, “family” manner. While the father rests his head atop the mother’s back, the younger lion plays with the father’s twitching tail. The mother snarls at the little lion, saying, in effect, “Stop bothering your father!”
The young cub got his comeuppance, in a way, since his own tail, raised a few inches above the statue’s base, broke off within a few years. It was reattached both to the cub and to the surface of the base beneath. By early 1990, the cub was removed from the base all together and has not been seen since that time. The mother has been snarling at … nothing.
Over the years the lions developed many cracks, with pieces going missing. By October 1994, a section of the father’s tail was completely gone. Everything is set to be restored, according to zoo craftswoman Sarah Feliciano, who is patching and repairing the two lions still on site.
In 1988, Barnes donated the original clay model of the lions to the Brookfield Historical Society. The curator created a removable plastic box to protect it, and it has been on display ever since. Those lions, too, have been steadily developing cracks in recent years, but they have not lost any pieces.
Now those arriving to see the zoo can find on the mushrooms all manner of animals, among them a rhino, giraffe, zebra, tiger, peacock, anteater, bear, wolf and parrots. It’s like seeing a painted preview of the zoo before seeing the live version.
Besides the ongoing repair of the lions, a door in one of the mushrooms is being replaced. The zoo reports that no formal rededication of the mushrooms or lions is as yet scheduled.