Quill Hyde grew up in rural Washington, along the Canadian Border. As a child on a farm, he spent a lot of time in nature and with animals. He says he had a fantastic childhood, full of adventures. He received a BA in Physics from Reed College in Oregon and a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University in New York City, both in 1995. He spent 15 years in New York City automating Broadway shows such as Mamma Mia, Blue Man Group, and productions of the American Ballet Theater. Hyde returned to his roots in the town of Tonasket, Washington. He set up a metal shop where he gathered a crew “committed to making beautiful, unique, and durable creations. We design, build, and collaborate to make dreams come true,” he said.
Hyde first visited the Burning Man Festival in the desert at Black Rock City, Nevada in 2006. Started in1986, the Festival has been held annually the week before Labor Day. It features a large number of artists’ presentations designed and built around an annual theme. Hyde first participated in 2007.
The theme of the 2021 Festival, the first after COVID, was The Great Unknown. Over 80,00 artists and visitors participated. “The Council of Animals (What to Do About the Monkeys)” was Hyde’s contribution. He describes his point of view: “It was a surprise, as a young person, when I realized that none of my classmates thought of themselves as animals, that they thought of themselves as somehow separate, superior, like we were dropped in from another reality. I grew up close to the dirt, with animals as friends and foes alike, as equals. So, it was a shock, in that fifth-grade classroom–wait, what? I’ve been thinking about it ever since.”
“The Council of Animals” consists of three large metal sculptures: a1200 pound elephant, a 7-foot-tall polar bear, and a 6-foot-tall rhino. Standing upright and holding a burning earth talking stick topped by a globe, Coyote delivers a message. He is the animals’ lawyer and delivers their message to the Festival participants seated on benches of reclaimed wood.
At night the “Council” circle is lit dramatically. Coyote’s earth globe lights up with flames. The benches for “the monkeys,” are placed to encourage watchers to engage in a meaningful dialogue about the relationship of animals and humans. Hyde says that we are judged by the animals. ‘’We’re all in it together and better figure it out soon.”
On July 11, 2023, “The Council of Animals (What to Do About the Humans)” opened on the National Mall in Washington, DC, and it will close on September 3, 2023. The exhibition is presented by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). Ingrid Newkirk, President of PETA, commented at the opening ceremony, “Humans aren’t the only animals who communicate, and if we could speak the languages of other species, we would understand their appeals for freedom and a just world.”
Coyote delivers the animals’ message: “Dear friends, we are gathered here today to discuss the problem of humanity. Look around you. There’s the elephant, with her profound emotional intelligence; the rhino, with his majestic horn; the polar bear, with his unmatched resilience; the chicken, with her superb mothering instincts; and me—the clever coyote. But our talents, interests, and autonomy are often overlooked because some humans believe other animals exist just for them.” Coyote’s message is delivered through the globe speaker broadcasting the recorded voice of actor Edward James Olmos.
The animals sit and look on calmly, except for the chicken perched on the rhino’s back. The chicken was not included in “The Council of Animals” at Burning Man. With wide spread wings and ruffled feathers, she regards the human viewers with watchful eyes.
Quill Hyde describes his intentions with respect to the creation of this sculptural group: “All of the living beings on this planet are part of one family and we’re all special and have a right to exist. I hope this piece, “The Council of Animals,” will help people realize that we are not the only ones that matter, that the idea of being judged by our animal peers will inspire us humans to make kinder choices, for everyone’s sake.”
Beverly Hall Smith was a professor of art history for 40 years. Since retiring with her husband Kurt to Chestertown in 2014, she has taught art history classes at WC-ALL. She is also an artist whose work is sometimes in exhibitions at Chestertown RiverArts and she paints sets for the Garfield Center for the Arts.