Scovill Zoo officials said he was instrumental in bringing the wolf exhibit there 16 years ago. A fan of the majestic animals, Eichenauer kept a large collection of artwork, books and music related to wolves in his house. Many were numbered prints by well-known naturalist and wildlife painter Robert Bateman.
“They were on every wall,” said his daughter, Beth Stringer. “Every square inch of his space was filled with these.”
But after Eichenauer died in 2008, the collection went into storage. His widow, Nancy Eichenauer, didn’t know what to do with it, until someone suggested donating the pieces to the zoo.
The timing couldn’t have been more fortuitous. Decatur Park District staff had already talked about starting an education program for the wolves, and Eichenauer’s donation helped those plans gain steam.
Flash-forward to Wednesday evening, when about 100 people were in attendance for a reception introducing Eichenauer’s collection. Speakers from Wolf Park in Indiana also gave lectures about the challenges for wolves in the United States today and photographing wolves.
“I’m just amazed that it’s turned out this way,” Nancy Eichenauer said. “In fact, I woke up and thought, this is such a good day.”
The art collection includes more than 20 pieces. Some are dramatic, such as the image of a large wolf shrouded in shadows in the forest; others show a more tender side of the animals, such as the depiction of pups surrounding their mother. Nancy Eichenauer said her husband was always interested in the way wolves operated as a family unit, with parents providing food for the children.
Ken Frye, the zoo’s assistant director, said the pieces would become the foundation for an education program the zoo is developing. The zoo’s wolf exhibit is undergoing construction to create a large viewing window, placing visitors closer to the wolves. And Frye said zoo officials hope to add a new pup this summer.
“We love that it’s not in storage, that people can enjoy it and view it and the family can come back and see it,” Stringer said of the collection.
And what would her father think?
“He’d be ecstatic,” she said, smiling. “He’s here.”