Dutch sculptors Adrie and Alfons Kennis are the artists behind many of the recreations of early man you’ve already seen, like Otzi the Iceman and the recent Cheddar Man. They are also twin brothers. The Kennises are most renowned for their sculptures of even older people -Neanderthals and other hominins. Their third display in the UK will open in October at St Fagans National Museum of History in Wales. To do the work they do, the Kennis brothers have studied human anatomy, evolution, DNA, and anthropology. The results are sculptures that appear startlingly lifelike while still being different from what we know.
This alien-ness is tempered, however, by their particular skill for facial expressions, giving life and personality to the clay. Each full-sized reconstruction takes half a year, but a face alone can take a whole month, and although the brothers refuse to refer to themselves as artists, this is obviously the area that gives them the greatest artistic freedom and satisfaction. “There are some things the skull can’t tell you,” admits Adrie. “You never know how much fat someone had around their eyes, or the thickness of the lips, or the exact position and shape of the nostrils.”
This personal quality is what makes Kennis models so captivating, and so desirable to museums: they don’t simply depict a generalised early man, but a specific man or woman, an effect that allows onlookers to glimpse human prehistory with immediacy, even familiarity. But while curators and museum-goers are sometimes surprised by the vivid, emotive features of the Kennis models, there is only one person Adrie needs to impress: “If Alfons doesn’t like the face, I am disappointed. But if he likes it, if we are both satisfied, then we can handle the whole world.”