African Lion Articulation
Skeletal preparation. Natural bone, brass

Preparing a skeleton for full anatomical functionality adds months onto the work that would normally be done on a static mount. In order to make each part work both independently and collectively requires an immense amount of preparation, research, and trust in mechanical intuition. Of course there is a fair amount of failing miserably and redoing things over and over again until it reacts properly. First, there is the pile of disarticulated bones, ruddy in color and connective tissues present. In order to prepare a skeleton for the articulation process it must be cleaned. There are a number of ways to do this; maceration, boiling, or (my favorite) letting natures little beetles do the work. After whichever process is used, the bones must then be sanitized and bleached. For this lion the cleaning process took about a month.

After the skeleton is clean, it is time to arrange the disarticulated mess into its proper categories. While this may look like an impossible puzzle, it should be noted that bones will always tell the truth. Individual vertebrae will only fit properly in the correct order. Once you understand the function of any particular system, its secrets will be revealed to you. I am not saying that it’s impossible to mess up. You can manage to force things together in a way they shouldn’t be, but unless you understand the anatomy of it, you won’t understand what looks right vs. is right. The bones tell a unique story about the plaster and wall paper above them.

The thing that makes this lion unique is the fact that it is articulated for full anatomical motion. The lion is capable of assuming any pose that a live lion can exhibit. This makes it useful for motion study. Brass was employed throughout the skeleton in keeping with the style of the late 1800’s. It should be noted that fittings and joints for skeletal preparation are not simply available from your local hardware store. Pieces that are not spring have been handmade, including the threading on the specialty bolts. Many unseen internal parts need to have two different thread pitches in order to joint well to other parts. The tension of each spring must be carefully taken into consideration, each rib for instance is calibrated to both the adjacent ribs as well as to the whole of the cage. The lion is able to bend in all directions with each rib moving in harmony with the others just as in life. In fact, each spring must replicate some action found in the musculature of the lion. The springs on the ribcage act as this skeleton’s Serratus Dorsalis and Intercostal muscles. Springs adjusted for tension are found throughout this skeleton, even inside the metacarpal bones. The Carpal and Tarsal bones (wrist and ankle) are held together with tension alone rather than glue or other fixtures. This allows the hands and feet to have a slight bend to them in motion just as in life. The joint between the femur and pelvis was recreated by designing and applying a ball joint within a ball joint within a ball joint! Sometimes joints can be far more complicated to reproduce than would be expected. When confronted with an elliptical socket, spheres will not do. I have found that you know you are right when collections of actions have unexpectedly correct results. That is what makes this a process of learning as much as teaching.