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Animal artists

“New Mexico Sunset” was painted by Rozie the elephant.
“New Mexico Sunset” was painted by Rozie the elephant.
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Rozie the Asian elephant utilizes every inch of canvas and has become comfortable with using bold strokes. Oh, and she prefers to seal some pieces with a kiss.

Her mother, Alice, has a different style and approaches the canvas with interest and oftentimes concentrates on one area of the canvas.

Alice has even learned to go sans paintbrush, opting for nontoxic tempera paint to be loaded into her trunk and then blasting the paint onto the canvas.

If you go
WHAT: “Painting Animals”
WHEN: Opening reception 5:30-8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 18; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays and 10 a.m.- 5 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 15
WHERE: Weems Galleries and Framing, 7200 Montgomery NE, Suite D
HOW MUCH: Free

Though neither of these elephants at the Rio Grande Zoo is a trained artist, their work – as well as other animals from the zoo – will be presented at Weems Galleries and Framing as part of the “Painting Animals” exhibit opening Friday, Jan. 18.

The exhibit will feature more than 50 paintings from more than 20 animals. It also will consists of pieces from their human counterparts.

“We wanted this event to be fun for everybody,” gallery owner Mary Ann Weems explains. “It’s a different type of show and I think people will have fun with it.”

Aside from Rozie and Alice, there will be work from Sarabi the African lion and Azeo the snow leopard, Tusa the lowland gorilla and others.

Some of the artists participating are David Moss, Dana Pomroy, Fred Yost, Mary Oelschlaeger, Weems, Lu Heater, Mary Beth Goforth and Dana Pomroy.

Julie Miller Rugg, executive director of the New Mexico BioPark Society, says the society and Weems teamed up for this event because it’s been successful in the past.

She did mention that this marks the first time that the zoo animals will have a gallery show.

“Undersea” is a painting by Sarah, an orangutan.

“We’ve had art available at Weems ArtFest,” she explains. “And those events have always been good for us in raising money. In fact, we often sell out many of the paintings. But with this exhibit, we wanted to showcase what the keepers are doing with the animals at the zoo with the enrichment programs.”

Miller Rugg says zookeepers have been working with the animals with painting programs for about eight years. In the past four years more animals are being included.

“The art sales started as a way for departments to raise money,” she says. “But it’s taken on a life of its own. The animals are getting great exercise and stimulation.”

At the zoo, Miller Rugg says there is time set aside for this type of enrichment, mostly on a monthly basis.

She says the paint that is used is nontoxic tempera paint.

“The keepers are really good about keeping their animals clean,” she says. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen an animal covered in paint when they are not painting. They are really good at getting everyone cleaned up well.”

Miller Rugg says she’s amazed to see the different approaches that each animal has when painting.

“Some of the orangutans don’t use a paintbrush and prefer to finger paint,” she explains. “Then there are some paintings that are color blocked and balanced. It’s something that I think people would be interested in learning about.”

Along with the paintings, Miller Rugg says there will be certificate of authenticity to go along with the painting, as well as the artist’s story.

“This is our way of letting the art buyer know that the animals did indeed paint it,” she says. “A lot of the animals are talented and enjoy the time they have to paint.”

John Grassham, director of development for the BioPark Society, says participating in the exhibit is a great way to let residents know about the programs at the zoo. He says most people don’t realize the programs exist.

“Around the world, there are programs like these,” he explains. “This is our way to showcase the talent and the hard work that goes on in the zoo. Everything raised goes back to the zoo and the keepers are able to get special treats for their respective departments. It’s a very fun time for us and we’re hoping that people will come in and learn about all of the stories behind the pieces.”

“Zoo Show” by BC Nowlin.

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