RANTOUL — For the last six months, Taylor Studios of Rantoul has been home to a little piece of prehistoric times.

Well, "little" may be somewhat of an understatement.

Taylor, and more specifically Curt Walker, was charged with the task of bringing the giant wooly mammoth to life for an outdoor exhibit near Milwaukee — and the mammoth is not so much wooly as it is steely.

"It wasn’t bad actually, but it was trying at times," Walker said of the creation. "There was a lot of forethought that went into it, but once you just start it, then it evolves as it goes along."

As evolution goes, moving from a wooly mammoth to a 7,000-pound steely mammoth made primarily of rebar was quite a task. The project took more than 1,200 man-hours to complete, and most of those hours were put in by the Fisher resident.

"Oh, it was definitely a lot of work, but this is what I want to do," Walker said. "I’m pretty fortunate to have a job in this geographic area as an artist."

The mammoth is being shipped to Horicon Marsh, a national and state wildlife refuge in the northern Dodge and southern Fon du Lac counties of Wisconsin. The marsh was created by the Green Bay lobe of a glacier during the Pleistocene era, which lasted from about 2.6 million years to 12,000 years ago. The wooly mammoth roamed much of the area during that geological epoch. The extinct glacial lake is now the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the United States.

"I hope it inspires people to think a little bit more about what used to be there," said Walker, who has done several pieces in the past year that are now on exhibit at Horicon.

"For this piece, I’m personally vested in it more so than a lot of the other projects I’ve done," Walker said. "There is a sense of pride, especially at this point now. I mean, to just step back and say, ‘Holy cow, that is a lot of pieces.’ It’s just crazy."

Walker has been at Taylor for 15 years, and he said he has become the guy who often gets some of the most difficult projects thrown in his lap.

"There is a bit of a tendency at Taylor to get a lot of the project ready when we don’t have it 100 percent figured out," Walker said. "They’re asking questions like, ‘How are we going to get this to do that?’ Sometimes they don’t know, so they just say, ‘Well, give it to Curt.’

"I take those types of things as challenges."

But Walker could not be more grateful for the opportunities Taylor has given him.

"Taylor has provided me with that outlet to be creative while supporting a family," he said.   

Walker’s journey to Taylor began at Parkland College, where he studied under Chris Berti, the associate professor of art and design.

"(He) really ignited my passion for creating sculptures," Walker said.

Taylor hired Walker straight out of college, and Walker said he is happy that a decade and a half later the work he is doing is now being recognized for what it is.

"We’re at the point now where a lot of people refer to something like this as art," Walker said. "It sort of has that folk art feel because it’s not the exact biological model of a mammoth. When you step back and look at it, there’s certainly some style and innovation to it."

With the mammoth Mammoth project complete and now sitting in a marsh is Wisconsin, Walker will move on to the next creation. That opportunity is something he certainly does not take for granted.

"I feel pretty fortunate to live in a nation and a society where a guy like me can have a full-time job that gives me the chance to do this sort of thing every once in a great while."

bquealy@rantoulpress.com