I t all started with the elephants. “How cool,” I thought when I first learned that Sujatha and Little Mac could paint.
I have a college degree in art, and still make art, just not as a profession. That art background earned me a spot on the committee that curates the new Volentine Family Gallery in the Zoo’s
Discovery Pavilion, and I couldn’t be happier. It’s been great putting together the art shows for our guests.
But, those elephants got me to thinking – who else at the Zoo might be able to create works of art?
That started it… and now, 60 works by more than two dozen different Zoo animal artists are on view in the exhibit “Animals Make Their Mark With Paint.”
We began with Pepe, the three-banded armadillo, and the results were fantastic — his painting looks like something from Jackson Pollock!
It wasn’t hard to get the zookeepers excited about this project. They are always looking for new ways to stimulate the animals and keep them engaged with their environments.
Generous donors sponsored the canvases and non-toxic paints, and I put together a kit for keepers with the art supplies plus a color wheel to show what colors look good together. Every painting session was unique, and it has been a great team-building experience.
”Gingerbread, our elderly African lion, showed that she is still pretty feisty. She painted with her paws… and then tried to kill the canvas. There’s a big divot taken out of the side.
Wendy and Cassie trained the giraffes to touch their noses to the canvas, but they didn’t like the thick paint. So we tried watercolors and got dreamy, soft images.
The same was true for Beau, our Channel Island fox. He refused to step in the paint, but would step in watercolors. His first painting looks like flowers, pansies actually.
The fennec foxes used “mixed media,” as they got dirt in the paint, creating an effect that looks like concrete.
Gingerbread, our elderly African lion, showed that she is still pretty feisty. She painted with her paws… and then tried to kill the canvas. There’s a big divot taken out of the side. It was so intense to see the power and size of her paws, “playing” in the colorful paint.
We got stronger canvases for the Amur leopards. Scott, one of their keepers, drilled holes in the frames and threaded in long wire. That way, he could retrieve the canvases after sliding them under the gate into Wyatt the leopard’s holding area.
Mammal keeper Melanie was so proud that she was able to target train one of our San Clemente goats to step onto the canvas! She also worked with the wee golden lion tamarins to target the canvas with their hands and feet.
Dr. Barnes, our vet, let us know when annual exams were taking place. We got such perfect paw prints of Everett, one of our snow leopards, while he was anesthetized. Mark, a reptile keeper was holding Ling, our Chinese alligator, for a medical procedure when Dr. Barnes covered Ling’s tail in paint and pressed it to a canvas, allowing us to get an awesome tail print.
The entire process of creating art with the animals has been incredible and it’s very exciting to share it with our Zoo guests. It’s hard for me to pick a favorite animal artist, but there’s something about the splatter effects, trunk kisses, and brushwork by the elephants that’s hard to resist.
“Animals Make Their Mark With Paint” is on view through January 2. The animals’ paintings are for sale and the proceeds support enriching their lives here at the Zoo.