Unique art finds home in new FFRF library: The evolution of ‘Mr. Darwin’

“Mr. Darwin,” the lifelike creation of talented artist Csam Wheatley, Louisville, Ky., now graces the Joel B. Landon and Wanda Y. Beers Freethought Library on the third floor of Freethought Hall, FFRF’s national office in downtown Madison, Wis.

The acquisition of Mr. Darwin was officially celebrated at a May 2 event, “Tea with Mr. Darwin,” in the new Charlie Brooks Auditorium. Area members enjoyed dainty hors d’oueuves and entertainment by the clever satirist and songwriter, Roy Zimmerman. He accompanied himself on guitar and sang “Creation Science 101,” “The Wedding of Church and State” and other apropos tunes.

FFRF Co-President Dan Barker was the warm-up act on the Diane Uhl Steinway concert piano, performing “It’s Only Natural,” with its reference “Thanks to Mr. Darwin for showing us the origins of the human race.”

Csam (pronounced “Sam”) Wheatley thoroughly researched details about Charles Darwin before constructing the figure. He stands a little over 6 feet, as the naturalist did in real life. Csam caught Darwin’s slight stoop, and his piercing blue eyes, dimmed a little by age.

He originally designed Mr. Darwin “for my personal collection,” adding, “I wanted to find a subject who had a very rich skin texture (such as wrinkles, pores, age spots and moles) and whose face had a lot of character. Darwin fit the bill. My great admiration for him and the availability of high quality (for its time) photos of him sealed the deal.

“I researched him to find out what the real man was like. I learned that he was a very loving husband and a doting father and that he was known to laugh so hard that he’d even slap his knee. I knew that he was demonized in some circles so I decided to portray him in the way that I imagined he’d look if he were greeting a friend. I hoped that after seeing my portrait, people would be more likely to see him as a real man with warmth and humanity.”

Csam estimates that Mr. Darwin has already been viewed by tens of thousands, since he lent out him out to be a centerpiece at secular booths at the Kentucky State Fair for several years. He was “born” five years ago, originally as a bust.

Mr. Darwin’s head and hands are foam rubber with a silicone skin. The rest of his body is sculpted from foam rubber over a wood and metal armature. Csam realized the bust he had created would have much greater impact atop a complete figure. The head and hands are sculpted in clay, from which Csam made molds, pouring in a thin layer of silicone to form the skin.

“Once the skin had cured, I filled them with foam rubber. Then I removed them from the molds and cleaned them up. Then I painted them. Then the fingernails and eyes were painted and installed. Then different hair colors were blended, and the hair was curled as appropriate, punched into the skin, and cut.”
Csam cut pieces of foam rubber and glued them onto the armature, then sculpted them to give the body its final shape. Then he installed the hands, which he said were the most intricate and time-consuming part. He took great care to reproduce every facial mole and wrinkle. Wanting “some of my DNA to be part of this project,” Csam placed one of his eyelashes into one of those moles.

“We’re so delighted and honored that Csam has allowed FFRF to give Mr. Darwin a home,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. A standing plaque positioned near Mr. Darwin notes that the acquisition was made possible by Michael Cermak, who originally gave the largest donation in FFRF’s first attempt to add a library to its original building.

The property owner next door opposed the construction, so FFRF eventually was able to negotiate purchase of the decrepit apartment building, which it has replaced with a four-story (plus lower-level mailing area) addition finished earlier this year.

Generous donors Wanda Beering and Joel Landon gave $100,000 for library construction, which is joined to the addition but still sits atop FFRF’s original building, as first planned. “We wanted Mike’s original support to be immortalized, too, because that support was so gratifying and because we kept Mike waiting a lot longer to see the library go up then we’d anticipated!” Annie Laurie said.

Please come and get your photo taken with Mr. Darwin at the open house Friday morning, Oct. 9, preceding FFRF’s 38th national convention at Monona Terrace Convention Center.

Freedom From Religion Foundation