SCULPTURE IN THE PARKS SPOTLIGHT: 'Helios Guardians' at Miami Woods
"Helios Guardians" is the creation of sculptor Michael Bigger.
The nine-ton sculpture was originally commissioned by the Cincinnati Zoo in 1969, one of Cincinnati's first large-scale abstract public works of art, as a memorial to Michael Grzimek, noted conservationist son of Dr. Bernhard Grzimek, famed zoological authority and director of the Frankfort (Germany) Zoo (the family name is misspelled on the plaque at the base of the sculpture).
The younger Grzimek died in 1959 at the age of 24 when a plane he was piloting in Tanzania collided with a vulture and crashed. Because of his work in helping expand the Serengeti National Park, the Tanzanian government buried him and erected a pyramid monument on top of the Ngorongoro Crater. His father was also buried there in 1987.
According to a 1975 Cincinnati Magazine article, the title refers to the Roman sun god Helios, who rode a horse drawn chariot across the sky and watched over a herd of sacred cattle. The work represents the spirit of wild animals guarded by the zoo.
When the Cincinnati Zoo renovated its entrance in 2004, the City of Sculpture purchased the piece and placed it at Miami Woods.
Bigger, a graduate of Miami University, died in 2011. In his obituary, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that he was born in Waukegan, Illinois on Oct. 10, 1937, and earned an MFA degree in sculpture from Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in 1968. He then taught welding at RISD for a year before taking a post at the Atlanta School of Art and subsequently serving as visiting lecturer at the University of Manitoba School of Art in Winnipeg (1973) and Massachusetts College of Art in Boston (1974). He returned to the Manitoba school in the late 1970s, rising to Associate Professor by 1979. As his career took off in the 1980s, he also taught at the University's of Texas and Maine before settling in Minneapolis.In a 45 year exhibition career, he showed his work at galleries and museums in New York City, Chicago, Mexico City, and throughout Texas.