Early in 1969 then Cranbrook Institute of Science Director Warren Wittry gave exhibits designer, Betty Odle, an assignment to “design and build an exhibit on the Wayana Indian tribe of French Guiana and Suriname of northeast South America.” Odle and assistant Stella Toland worked over seven months to transform Caucasian store mannequins into the native Wayana people. Odle created the facial features, coloring, and anatomy from studies of photographs taken by explorer Art Erickson who lived with the Wayanas during his expedition to French Guiana.
Creative modifications were necessary to create an accurate depiction of the Wayanas. Odle and Toland spent hours applying paper mache and plasticine to the bodies of the mannequins. Modeling clay was used to shape the faces before oil paint was applied to complete the finest details. The exhibit, “Ways of the Wayana,” opened in October 1969 and included a recreation of the “Wasp Mat Ceremony” with Odle’s life-size figures.
Odle received high praise for the accuracy in her work by Erickson. Her work as the exhibits designer at the Institute spanned from 1959-1985. In 1984 she received Cranbrook’s Founder’s Medal for her many contributions to Cranbrook Educational Community.
– Gina Tecos, Archivist