Natural History Museum to launch fundraiser for replacement of iconic grotesques

photo by: Nick Krug

Worker Angelo Epps chisels away some of the mortar below one of the Dyche Hall grotesques perched outside the seventh floor as work continues, Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017 along the exterior of the building on the campus of the University of Kansas. The grotesques, which have suffered significant erosion, have been a part of Dyche Hall for nearly 115 years, according to KU officials. The museum is currently seeking bids for carved recreations of the grotesques as the originals will be removed and placed in the Panorama Gallery of the KU Natural History Museum.

For the first time in 115 years, the public will have the opportunity to get up close and personal with the mythical beasts that have long stood guard along the University of Kansas Natural History Museum roofline.

Dyche Hall’s eight grotesques — like gargoyles but without water spouts — were removed from the building’s façade last fall after years of erosion made them irreparable, museum staff say. The mythical creatures, designed by artist Joseph Frazee around the turn of the 20th century and hand-carved out of soft limestone, were installed at KU’s Natural History Museum in 1903.

On Thursday, the museum (housed inside Dyche Hall) will host a series of family-friendly events intended to engage the public in the grotesques’ replacement process. The activities will serve as an official kickoff to the Natural History Museum’s $150,000 fundraising effort to re-create and reinstall the sculptures.

“We want the public to see as much of that as possible,” said Leonard Krishtalka, director of the KU Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum, of the replacement process. “Certainly a lot of the sculpting will have to occur in the artists’ studios, but we’re hoping that some of the sculpting can also occur in Dyche Hall in the panoramic gallery.”

photo by: Nick Krug

A grotesque on the east side of Dyche Hall.

What visitors will see Thursday is the initial 3D scanning and drawing of the original grotesques, led by Lawrence siblings Karl Ramberg and Laura Ramberg. The artists, along with KU faculty members Keith Van de Riet and Amy Van de Riet, will supervise the activities, slated for 1 to 4 p.m. at the museum, 1345 Jayhawk Blvd.

At 1 p.m., kids and adults alike will have the chance to sculpt their own grotesques from modeling clay. The public will then be invited to sketch the grotesques alongside the Rambergs at 2 p.m., followed by a 3 p.m. talk by Keith van de Riet on the 3D scanning technique used to create high-resolution images of the grotesques.

All eight of the original grotesques will be placed on display in the museum’s panorama gallery for viewing Thursday. The events will serve as an official launch of the $150,000 fundraising campaign that began quietly last fall. Krishtalka donated the project’s first $500 back in August, when the grotesques were removed from the building’s seventh-floor exterior. To date, around $20,000 has been raised for the project.

photo by: Nick Krug

A grotesque on the east side of Dyche Hall.

“One of the reasons Ramberg Stoneworks won the contract was because, in their proposal, they were explicit about involving the KU community — the students, the faculty and staff — and the Lawrence and regional community as much as possible in the entire process of digitally scanning the grotesques, sculpting the replacements and placing them back on their original pedestals on the east and south sides of the museum,” Krishtalka said.

The creatures’ replacement is part of a $4.2 million renovation funded by the state of Kansas, the KU Natural History Museum announced last fall. Projects include cleaning and repairing the building’s exterior stonework, replacing the roof, windows and internal walls, and installing a new HVAC system on the seventh floor.

Since their removal several months ago, all eight original grotesques have been displayed at different locations within the museum. After Thursday’s event, some will remain on display in the panorama gallery, while others will return to the museum’s sixth floor, for example. All eight of the sculptures will have a home at Dyche Hall for the foreseeable future, Krishtalka said.

Krishtalka estimates that each grotesque will cost about $16,500 to replace. Work will begin on the replicas as soon as enough funds are raised to cover “two or three” grotesques, he said, adding that museum staff doesn’t “intend to wait until the entire $150,000 is in hand.”

“We would love for the project to go forward,” Krishtalka said. “And as people see the project up close and personal, we hope they will be motivated to support this terrifically unique KU and Kansas cultural treasure, or a replacement of that cultural treasure.”

Ramberg Stoneworks will also partner with the KU School of Architecture and Design for the project, Krishtalka said. He expects the replacement process to provide educational opportunities for several fields of study at KU, including history, art history and architecture, to name a few.

The KU Natural History Museum also intends to use 3D scanning to produce scaled-down versions of the grotesques — jewelry and bookends, for example — to be sold in the museum’s gift shop.

Thursday’s events are free and open to the public, with no reservations required. To donate to the grotesque replacement efforts, visit