Masterpieces made by various creatures are on sale at an area art gallery through August

August 13, 2010 06:41 PM

Monet. Picasso. Renoir. Marsha the rhino. Nope, that’s not a misprint – animals at the Oklahoma City Zoo are joining the ranks of some very esteemed artists, thanks to a new painting program, Art Gone Wild.

Conceived about a year ago, Art Gone Wild encourages creativity in the zoo’s animals – everyone from rhinos and tortoises to sea lions and guinea hogs – by inviting the creatures to express themselves through painting. Using non-toxic, water-soluble paints and a variety of tools (brushes for some, feet, trunks and noses for others), the animals make mini-masterpieces, and have a little fun, too.

“It builds a relationship between keepers and animals, even though they’re wild,” publicity director Tara Henson tells “And it’s conditioning. They learn that if they touch their nose to a target, they get a reward.”

Henson says the animals weren’t skeptical of their new project; in fact, it was incredible to see how they chose to approach their canvases. “We have one elephant who is really fond of orange-colored snacks,” she says. “When she first started painting, she only wanted to use orange because she associated it with her favorite foods!”

Other animals impressed even more. “California sea lions are colorblind,” Henson explains. “But our older female, Midge, always seemed to know when she was done with a particular color, and would drop her brush, then refuse to pick it up again until her keeper gave her a new hue.”

And while it’s been interesting to watch the animals paint, the project has been helping the zoo, too. Through the end of the month, a variety of paintings by the animals are on display and up for sale at Oklahoma City’s In Your Eye art gallery. “We worked for over six months to create enough artwork for the show,” Henson says. “We don’t have the animals paint every day – if we did, it wouldn’t be fun! – so we took our time.”

Paintings cost between $100 and $600 – “to us, the pieces are invaluable,” Henson says – and come with a certificate of authenticity signed by the animal’s keeper and a zoo executive. People know which animal’s piece they’re buying, too, thanks to an accompanying photo of the creature hard at work. “Some people have a fondness for a particular animal,” Henson explains. “People here just really love the zoo.”

So far, the show has been a success, raising nearly $2,000 on its opening night, Aug. 6. And once it’s over, Henson hopes to make the paintings available elsewhere, perhaps in the zoo’s gift shop. “We’ll have the animals continue to paint,” she says. “But our first priority will always be keeping it fun for them.”

For more about the project, visit the Oklahoma City Zoo’s website.

Read more about animal art on
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