Community News (St. Louis County)
Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Artwork By Elephants

An upcoming art exhibit at the University of Missouri-St. Louis will feature paintings created by elephants that reside in Southeast Asia.

The works, from the Asian Elephant Art & Conservation Project, will be on display Jan. 19 through Feb. 2 at Gallery Visio, 170 Millenium Student Center at UMSL.  Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

The elephants work with trainers to learn to hold a paintbrush in their trunks and to make basic strokes across a canvas.  Though most paint in an abstract manner, some of the elephants, such as 6-year-olds Gongkam and Wanpen, have learned to create artwork in a realistic Chinese style.

The Gallery Visio exhibit is free and open to the public.  It will feature 21 paintings that have not been displayed before.  The paintings, as well as a book and documentary about the Asian Elephant Art & Conservation Project, will be available for purchase.

The nonprofit Asian Elephant Art & Conservation Project works to increase the diminishing number of Asian elephants.  The organization teaches elephants to paint as fund-raising effort, with money used to preserve and manage protected habitats for wild elephant populations, establish conservation agencies and other projects.

Most of the domesticated elephants were used to haul logs, but they were left without work after the deforestation of the Thai countryside led to a ban on the logging.  According to the organization, there is little or no natural habitat for these elephants to reside.

After hearing about the elephants in Southeast Asia, Russian-born artists Alexander Melamid and Vitaly Komar decided to teach them to paint and quickly found the practice to be a profitable humanitarian endeavor that helps support the pachyderms.

In November 1998, the pair founded the world's first Elephant Art Academies in Lampang and Ayutthaya, Thailand, in order to assist domesticated elephants and their keepers, who also lost their jobs following the collapse of the timber industry.

Paintings are sold online and around the world at galleries and auctions.  In March 2000, a Christie's auction of elephant art held in New York raised $75,000 for elephant conservation.  One painting was purchased by a collector for $2,200.

An opening reception for the Gallery Visio exhibit will take place from 4 to 7 p.m. Jan. 19 at the gallery.  A video about the Asian Elephant Art & Conservation Project will be screened during the reception, which is free and open to the public.

A joint fund-raiser for the Asian Elephant Art & Conservation Project and Gallery Visio will take place from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Jan. 19 in Century Room C at the Millennium Students Center at UMSL.  The fund-raiser will include live and silent auctions, catered food, a cash bar and a presentation by Dave Ferris, project director for the Asian Elephant Art & Conservation Project.

Tickets to the fund-raiser are $35 for the general public, $20 for UMSL staff and faculty and $10 for all students.  Only cash and checks will be accepted for tickets and auction items.  Reservations are required and may be made by calling (314) 516-7922.

Gallery Visio is operated by UMSL students.

For more information about the Asian Elephant Art & Conservation Project, visit  Call (314) 516-7922 for more information about Gallery Visio.

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