A Shared Legacy
Although Glasbrenner has never seen a giraffe lumber over the African plain, she has stared into the unblinking eye of the planet's tallest ungulate. From an early age, she learned to recognize the fantastical creatures of a distant continent, not from the back of a safari vehicle, but at the knee of her maternal grandfather, Frank Chuber. 'Grandpa loved animals and had a great respect for wildlife and the outdoors,' she recalls.
Born at the turn of the 20th century, Chuber came of age when Theodore Roosevelt was just returning from Africa with thousands of animal 'specimens', many of which now adorn the halls of institutions like the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, and the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Between 1916 and 1939, he worked as the Technical Manager for the Manhattanbased James L. Clark Studios, Inc., a taxidermy studio that employed artists highly skilled in constructing some of the most realistic habitat dioramas in the world. Theodore Roosevelt often commissioned the company to preserve his African trophies.
In his work at Clark Studios, Chuber began to sculpt Africa's animals and get to know them intimately, even though he had never seen them in the wild. As a skilled artist and with painstaking attention to detail, he helped craft many of the animals still on display today in the Hall of African Mammals at the American Museum of Natural History and at Theodore Roosevelt's home at Sagamore Hill. His work also appeared at the 1939 World's Fair in New York.
'Taxidermy was a natural career choice and he loved his work,' says Glasbrenner, stressing that this was a different era, before the advent of televisions and computers and before changes in our understanding of and relationship to animals. 'When he worked for Clark Studios, he told me how plentiful wild animals were. Taxidermy commissions for museums and universities were a way to bring these magnificent animals to our continent.'
It wasn't until several decades later that Chuber's love of preserving animals through taxidermy evolved into a desire to see them preserved in the wild through conservation. 'In later years, when I was a child in the 1960s and '70s, my grandfather saw the diminishing landscapes here in North America and read of the shrinking savannas and wildlife populations in Africa,' she recalls. 'Wanting to preserve the live animals became of paramount importance to him.'
As a father and grandfather, Chuber shared his fascination with and love for Africa's animals with his children and grandchildren. 'He used to draw animals for my sister and me when we spent time at my grandparents' house and I learned at an early age the differences between an African elephant and an Indian one,' says Glasbrenner. 'One of my favorite animals was the dikdik, mostly because it was so tiny. My grandfather told me the little legs were only about as thick as your finger.'
Despite being partial to the dikdik, her first love was the African elephant, a love she shared with her grandfather. 'He told me about how long they live in the wild, how long the young stay with their mothers, how much the calves weigh and how they stay together as families.'
In fact, it was Glasbrenner's love for elephants that first attracted her to the African Wildlife Foundation. 'I got involved with AWF in the early 1980s when it launched its Save the Elephants campaign,' she says, and her support has never wavered since. 'My mom said my grandfather would be very proud of my ongoing interest in saving animal species.'
In December 2007, Glasbrenner made the decision to include AWF in her will and designated the organization a beneficiary of her retirement account. She believes her grandfather would have endorsed her decision. 'I know if he were alive today, he would approve of me willing my estate to AWF.'
She hopes that one day she will visit the continent that fascinated her grandfather and captivated her imagination as a child. 'My grandfather died in 1976, eight years before I joined AWF, but we often discussed my desire to go on safari some day.' She adds, 'But I'll only shoot pictures of the animals he drew for me as a child.'