At the heart of Jon Zahourek’s career and his Anatomy in Clay® Learning System sculptures-turned-models, there lies a passion for accuracy. When he first developed the Caniken® model—the subject of a six-day Denver workshop later this summer—he sculpted it as a somewhat non-descript, large dog.
But while reconsidering this skeleton, Zahourek paid a visit to a wolf sanctuary in Colorado. More specifically, the W.O.L.F. Sanctuary in LaPorte. For just 20 seconds, the sanctuary manager allowed him to put his hands on a young wolf.
“I was shocked at a couple of things I discovered: the narrowness of its thorax, and the resulting dorsoventral deepness; the long and narrow skull; its long legs and its big hands and feet,” said Zahourek.
He subsequently became convinced that he’d need to redevelop his Caniken® model. Zahourek added to his research by acquiring a wolf skeleton from an Oklahoma supplier.
“In every circumstance, I gravitate toward evolutionary pattern,” said Zahourek. “I chose the wolf because it is the foundational animal from which dogs evolved.”
Every dog—from the towering Irish wolfhound to the stubby Corgi—evolved from wolves. They were domesticated by early humans tens of thousands of years ago. (Some researchers, in fact, believe wolves may have domesticated themselves by scavenging around human hunters and gradually becoming more and more tame, according to this article in the Atlantic Monthly.)
Zahourek spent over two years on the Caniken® model, drastically restructuring its features and modifying the proportions. When it came to casting, the task was equally arduous.
“Casting the model was challenging, as usual,” he said. “A great deal of wolf anatomy at that scale was delicate, indeed, especially of the laryngeal and stylohoid anatomy. Designing the mold and once cast, demolding delicate work like that was very challenging. Demolding the castings takes real artistry, too.”
We think the result is brilliant, inspiring, and enlightening. And the timing is serendipitous: after wolves were listed as an endangered species in 1974, they have made a gradual recovery as a key predator in the Western U.S. They are vital in helping balance prey populations like deer and elk. For the first time in about 80 years, a wolf pack has been spotted in northwestern Colorado this year.
On the topic of wolf reintroduction, Zahourek’s view is clear: “Wolves should absolutely be reintroduced everywhere. They are apex predators. Their prey have always needed to overproduce reproduction in order to stay even, and the prey need culling of the sick and old. When the carnivorous predators are diminished, the prey population grows out of control, and must be rebalanced.”
At the upcoming Anatomy in Clay workshop (July 29 to August 4 in Denver at the non-profit Anatomy in Clay Centers), you can work with and learn from the Caniken® model, building with clay on the scaled skeleton.
While building muscles and laying them on “bone,” you’ll also learn about common anatomical patterns common to dogs and man, range of motion elements, and evolutionary events.
This workshop, a 39-hour course, is ideal for vets, vet techs, dog owners, trainers, breeders, artists, zoologists, naturalists, and anyone wanting to understand how dogs—and wolves—are made to move.