Larry Young ’76 headlines “Natural Selection” art show at Columbia., Mo., gallery in honor of Darwin’s 200th birthday

This bronze sculpture titled Genome, by Larry Young, represents a double helix.

Charles Darwin believed that evolution pushes certain organisms to change over time so that they can adapt and survive in their surroundings. The idea created controversy among people of faith and became a phenomenon in 1859 when Darwin wrote the book, On the Origin of Species, which still causes dinner-table debates. To commemorate his achievements and 200th birthday, PS: Gallery, 812 E. Broadway, Columbia, Mo., is hosting “Natural Selection” until March 28. Eleven pieces will be on display, each exploring the idea of evolution.

The exhibit’s pieces are either gifts to the retina or headache-inducing experiences. As if trying to find Waldo, spectators sit, stand, squint and stare to understand what they’re looking at. A monkey with fingerlike feet paints an abstract nature scene. In an effort to criticize the idea of evolution, the hand of God reaches out to create a tarantula as if to say that an organism as unappealing as a spider couldn’t have come together on its own. A porcelain bust covered in sea creatures protests the destruction of natural reefs around the world.

Many pieces are intricate, but the simplest ones catch the viewer’s eye, such as the one of a fat pink iguana. The watercolor named Missing Pink by local artist Marilyn Cummins profiles the recently discovered yet endangered iguana that Darwin never found on the Galapagos Islands. Scientists nicknamed the lizard “Rosada,” in reference to the Spanish word for pink. “To hear about this discovery around the time of Darwin’s birthday is what tied it together for me,” says Cummins about her work. “I wanted this iguana to stand out.”

Another piece, standing quietly but powerfully in the midst of photographs and drawings, is a bronze sculpture called Genome by Larry Young ’76. Young created his piece before the exhibit came together but knew it would fit. “This piece really spoke to the theme of the show; it kind of covers everything,” Young says. The $6,000 sculpture captivates with its detail as a bronze double helix twists and turns and finishes into a polished egg. The work is a moving tribute to human creation. Small in stature, approximately 28 inches, the figure speaks to the beauty and fragility of life as a shimmering bronze egg hangs on by the thinnest thread.

Young is best known for his monumental outdoor sculptures nationally and abroad; a fine example sits in front of Dulany Hall. Most of his work has been in bronze, but he also works with stainless steel, marble, and other materials. He owns and operates a full-scale, 6,000 square foot foundry - a personal oversight of production that is very unusual for sculptors who work on monumental scales.

Young first learned to cast bronze as a molder in the U.S. Navy. Following the Navy he achieved international prominence as a two-time Olympic medalist (Mexico City ’68 and Munich ’72), the only American to ever win a medal in long distance racewalking. During this period he studied sculpture at Columbia College, followed by a two-year fellowship to study sculpture in Italy. Young has been a full-time artist ever since, known for his fluid forms, innovative use of negative space and mastery of the bronze medium. You can see more at

Neither focused on science nor religion, the exhibit is more about celebrating the work of an accomplished man. And life. In “Natural Selection,” no work is alike. Encompassing sculpting, painting, photography and even wood-burning techniques, each is appreciated differently. “To come and see how other artists approached the topic is really interesting,” Cummins says.

So no, Charles Darwin might not be as popular as Barack Obama or croon like the legendary Sam Cooke, but Darwin doesn’t need to be cool. His name will always be prominent in biology books and in the minds of the biggest science nerds. The strong definitely do survive.

Event Info
What: “Natural Selection”
When: Through March 28
Where: PS: Gallery, 812 E. Broadway, Columbia, Mo.
Cost: Free
Call: 442-4831

This article appeared as “Naturally selected,” by Victoria Uwumarogie in Vox, March 19, 2009. Larry Young sculpture photo by Kevin A. Roberts.