Doug Kampfer and Jeremy Link, co-owners of Graphite Design + Build, became business partners almost a decade ago. Gaining attention for the sculptures they created for metroparks throughout the area, they’ve always had an appreciation for the biodiversity found in this region. They used the inspiration they found in the parks for one of their largest projects yet: the ProMedica Museum of Natural History at the Toledo Zoo.
Graphite Design + Build has contributed to the Zoo’s design before, having made large-scale sculptures for the aquarium adventure trail, a success that led to the current, more intensive project, culminating in a grand opening on Friday, May 31. The Museum of Natural History’s 100 large sculptures of prehistoric animals, more than 15 murals, information panels, and many other components are all in keeping with the what the building was originally intended to be— a science museum. The designers made sure the historic Works Progress Administration site maintains the architectural detail of that time period.
“It’s an important building that blended in so that no one noticed it,” Link said. “Now it’s going to be the highlight of the Zoo. I think it will be everyone’s favorite building.”
More than just a science museum, the Natural History Museum celebrates the ecosystems of Northwest Ohio, designed to inspire visitors to do their own research. “It’s kind of a mishmash of teaching everyone about the biodiversity of venom throughout the world, along with the ecosystems in Ohio,” Link said. “I think it shows how cool this area really is; it’s not just cornfields and shallow rivers. There are some really important things that happened around here 15,000 years ago.”
Other than the focus on venom as a major theme, the specifics of which Link is keeping to himself for now, the zoo gave Graphite free creative reign in their approach. Working with the zoo’s architects and design team, Graphite also hired artists they’ve worked with over the years to help them with the project. “Sculptors, painters, cabinet makers, graphic designers, wood workers…we had to do a little bit of everything for this museum.”
Those tiny toads are no joke
The first thing visitors will be met with when they enter the museum is a frozen-in-time sculpture of a saber tooth tiger fighting a wooly mammoth, an iconic Ice Age image that Link expects to become a fixture that even out-of-town visitors will come to associate with the Toledo Zoo. In contrast, another portion of the museum takes creatures— like toads you might walk right past without noticing in the park— and shows the drama happening all around us in nature on a larger scale.
Link said, “We like the dynamic of these massive creatures. These toads [sculptures] are huge and show that they are apex predators on the forest floor of Ohio. They’re no joke— if you’re small, they’re pretty terrifying.”
Graphite Design + Build’s goal is to show the link between Northwest Ohio’s prehistoric past to its present. “I think it’s important because there’s a common misconception that Ohio is boring, and that you need to go somewhere else to see nature,” Link said, adding that “you can go to Oak Openings and find sand dunes as a seagull flies overhead. That doesn’t happen in many areas of the world. ” The museum ties the diverse ecosystems that many take for granted today to the incredible biodiversity that has existed here.
“People are going to feel like they’re on a little safari,” Link said. “I think it’s going to bring visitors to the Zoo from all over.”
The ProMedica Museum of Natural History opens on Friday, May 31 at The Toledo Zoo, promising to be an exciting reflection
on Northwest Ohio’s prehistoric beginnings.
The Toledo Zoo | 2 Hippo Way
419-385-5721 | Check toledozoo.org for hours