November 22, 2014

Elyria
Cloudy
26°F
test

Sold: Animal masterworks

CLEVELAND — Squint a little and the ink splashed across the canvas looks something like a maniacal villain from some B-grade horror movie.

What is it really? Well, that’s hard to say, since its artist isn’t fluent in any language known to man.

BRUCE BISHOP / CHRONICLE
Zookeeper Heather Strawn shows off a painting by a polar bear.

The painting by a polar bear was one of 60 paintings and prints auctioned off Thursday during “Animals Creating Art Silent Auction” at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. All of the art was done by zoo animals, with a bit of intervention by their human caretakers, of course.

The Greater Cleveland Chapter of the American Association of Zookeepers introduced the auction last year to impressive reviews, raising more than $8,000 to benefit eight nonprofit conservation organizations.

This year, a polar bear painting again drew the highest bid, $460. The total amount raised was not available Thursday night.

Zookeeper Heather Strawn, a graduate of Midview High School, said the paintings stimulate the animals to enrich their stay at the zoo while raising money for conservation efforts.

“It’s something good for our animals, and it’s helping somebody else,” she said. “That’s the part that means the most to me.”

Some of the wild art offered at the auction included pieces by the zoo’s red kangaroos, Dara the Persian leopard, the bears of Northern Trek and the black rhinos, including many others. The prolific Huck the sea lion contributed two works to the auction.

Capturing the art is a year-long process that sees zookeepers arrive at their respective cages with art supplies and wait around until the animals are ready.

“Sometimes Huck (the sea lion) will paint, and then stop to go swimming,” Strawn said. “When he’s ready, he’ll come back and do some more, but it takes a little time to get a whole painting.”

Depending on the animal, painting often is done by way of a paintbrush in the mouth or by utilizing other body parts such as paws, hooves or fins.

While Slomo the two-toed sloth paints with its toes, the zoo’s python took advantage of its slithery skin to leave its own neon-green impression on canvas.

The true artists among the animals probably are the zoo’s three female elephants, which have developed their own styles and techniques and paint differently depending on their moods, Strawn said.

Strongsville-based FastFrame donated its services again this year and matted the paintings alongside a picture of the animal artist for free.

This year’s attendance of more than 230 people doubled last year’s attendance. Strawn said she had no intentions of selling the animals’ paintings anywhere but the auction.

“People are captivated by it,” Strawn said. “It’s definitely art you can’t find anywhere else."

Contact Stephen Szucs at 336-4016 or sszucs@chroniclet.com.