Over the course of my time with The Neville Public Museum I encountered many interesting characters of Brown County's past. However, none fascinate me more than the Dale Kuipers (1947-1996). From comic book creatures, movie monsters, and flowering flora, Dale created sublime works of art and Hollywood special effects.
I had the privilege of becoming familiar with Kuipers resulting from my work on a temporary Neville exhibition, Dale Kuipers: Green Bay's Monster Maker. Unfortunately, learning about Dale was not the easiest task. Due to union conflicts most of his Hollywood film work goes uncredited. Further records are sparse and scattered. Luckily, the Neville provided me a wealth of resources for research. Therefore, I find it befitting to share some of what I found.
Throughout his youth Kuipers constructed dinosaur models in his parent's basement. Using these models he filmed Infant Earth, a creation story documenting the formation of Earth's life. Another project of his, Two Faces of Venus, gained Kuipers national attention through Associated Press. Into the 1970s, Dale worked for several nearby haunted houses, most notably Mackinac Island's The Haunted Theatre.
Opportunity presented itself to Kuipers in 1979 when Universal Studios began filming Somewhere in Time on Mackinac Island. After showing the special effects department his haunted house monsters, Kuipers acquired letters of recommendation to supplement his portfolio. With such recommendations, Dale launched his Hollywood career. Within weeks, Roy Arbogast of Jaws fame reached out to Kuipers and brought him to Hollywood as the Special Effects Sculptor on Caveman. The film allowed Dale to implement his dinosaur expertise and to establish his reputation. Through Rick Baker, Kuipers landed a second job working with Rob Bottin on The Howling. Together the two set out to reimagine the portrayal of werewolves in film. Unfortunately, petroleum distillate poisoning ailed Kuipers and forced him back to Green Bay for recovery.
Months after his return, John Carpenter signed on Kuipers to design a monster for The Thing. In contrast to the movie's final monster, Kuipers believed his was more biologically sound and its origins more fleshed out. Work stopped after Kuipers sustained major injuries and Bottin replaced him.
Back in Green Bay, Kuipers remained active amongst the local art and film communities. Working from his Skylight Gallery on Washington St., he collaborated with theater groups, films, haunted houses, and community events. Despite his fantastical monsters, pastel landscapes were Dale's true love. He remarked that monsters paid the bills so he could pursue more serene scenes. Battling spats of poor health, Dale passed away in July, 1996.
To describe Dale as "fascinating" is an understatement. Through triumphs and trials, Dale continued his passion for art and special effects until death. His imagination opened new worlds and introduced wonderful creatures to his audiences. One must experience his work firsthand to catch a glimpse of his brilliance.
Intern, University of Wisconsin -
1. He's not a Woolly Mammoth
Stompy is a mastodon, but what's the difference? For starters mastodon tusks were less curved than a mammoth's. Mastodon teeth were different from a mammoth's as well. Why was that? Because Mastodons lived in swampy areas and chewed on branches and shrubs. Mammoths grazed on grasses in open plains. You can see the difference between the two species teeth just behind Stompy in the exhibit!
2. His fur is made of cow tails
Stompy is covered in 1,500 cow tails! The cow tails were washed, bleached, and colored before being adhered to his body. This was done by the artist to achieve the look of shaggy curly hair which would've helped him stay warm at the end of the last Ice Age.
Photo taken in 1983 right after the diorama was installed for the new museum
3. He sheds... so please don't pet the mastodon
Stompy is now 37 years old! Over the years he lost some of his hair but who wouldn't after entertaining the masses for three decades? During the recent renovation museum diorama specialists came in to give Stompy an little upgrade. He was cleaned and even got some new hair additions using the same technique that was used in 1983.
We'd love for Stompy to stick around another 30 years so please don't pet him. He's a museum favorite and we want to keep him looking shaggy for a long time. The more exposure he gets to human touch the more he will deteriorate just like any other artifact in the museum.
4. He was made in Indiana
When the museum started to plan for their brand new building in 1982, they also began to plan for a new large-scale exhibit about the history of Northeastern Wisconsin. Part of that story was to be told with a diorama of the Late Pleistocene Period by diorama artists Pat and Theresa Gulley of Williamsport, IN. The artists modeled Stompy from an elephant at the Indianapolis Zoo. Stompy was the first piece to be installed in the On the Edge of the Inland Sea.
Photo of curator Dennis Jacobs preparing Stompy for the opening of "On the Edge of the Inland Sea"
5. He's only 3/4th the size he should be
Due to size constraints in the exhibit the entire diorama is made at 3/4th size, including the Paleo-Indian hunters. Imagine Stompy and the hunters just a little bigger next time you go through the Ice Cave!
Bonus Fact: Did you know the crouching hunter wasn't originally behind Stompy? He was first installed on the ledge directly across from Stompy.
Next time you venture through our Ice Cave we hope you'll take a second to say hi to Stompy, maybe snap a picture with him and consider how he came to be here at the Neville! -