[monkeywire] Gorilla art show opens in Florida

Carrie McLaren carrie at stayfreemagazine.org
Mon Nov 11 09:11:26 EST 2002

St. Petersburg Times
November 8, 2002 Friday

Palette of the Apes


VIRGINIA PARK - They consider Koko the playful, gregarious one who 
doesn't like to get paint on her fingers.

They describe Michael, now deceased, as the gifted, sensitive one, 
whose paintings have earned praise among art lovers.

Both have used canvas to express their emotions and interpret their 
Not bad for hairy, lowland gorillas. Nine of their limited edition 
prints go on display today at the Gold Dragon Gallery on Manhattan 
Avenue, which specializes in the work of local artists. Proceeds will 
benefit the Gorilla Foundation, dedicated to protecting the world's 
largest apes.

The exhibit marks the first in Florida and one of the few nationwide. 
Based in California, the foundation introduced the gorillas' artwork 
a few years ago to show the intelligent and emotional side of the 
often feared, chest-banging beasts.

"The more people are educated about gorillas as amazing beings, the 
more important it is to preserve them," said Jenifer Patterson, the 
foundation's marketing director. "They are our cousins."

The nine paintings were created by Koko and Michael in the 1980s and 
early '90s. Some in the art world have compared Michael to American 
abstract painter Jackson Pollock, Patterson said.

The artwork was inspired by objects familiar to the gorillas, from 
Michael's toy dinosaur to a red bell pepper. There's one of Michael's 
dog, Apple, and another of Koko's favorite bluebird. Both resemble 
the real things, right down to the colors.

"It's very deliberate," Patterson said. "To me, it's modern art. 
Sometimes, the gorillas would paint from a model. Other times they 
would draw from their imaginations, she said. Human helpers set them 
up with a canvas, palette of paint and brushes but left it to the 
apes to create as inspired.

Not only do they draw, the gorillas communicate through sign language 
and understand some English. When Koko drew a pink heart, she used 
sign language to call it "love." Michael named his painting of a 
bouquet of flowers, Stink Pink More.

In the past 25 years, Koko has mastered a vocabulary of more than 
1,000 words, says Penny Patterson, foundation president and sister of 
the marketing director. Michael, who died of a heart attack in 2000, 
knew more than 600 signs.

By communicating through hand gestures, researchers hope to learn 
more about gorillas and how to save them from extinction. The gorilla 
population in Africa dwindles every year because of habitat 
destruction and poaching for meat. Only about 600 mountain gorillas - 
the rarest type - live in the wild.

"It's a race now," Jenifer Patterson said. "Can we educate people and 
stop this before they are gone?"

Owners of the Gold Dragon Gallery decided to host the exhibit after 
learning more about the gorillas and their plight. Co-owner Larry 
Schoonover said he got hooked watching a video of them "talking" with 
humans and cuddling with a kitten.

"These gorillas have a wonderful sense of humor. They are capable of 
lying, being embarrassed or shy," said Schoonover, a retired Navy 
diver and longtime wildlife supporter.

Money raised from the artwork will go to the foundation, established 
in 1976. Each limited edition print sells for $150 to $300, unframed. 
T-shirts with the gorillas' art cost about $20.

Foundation officials said sales will help create a 70-acre gorilla 
preserve on the mountainous Hawaiian island of Maui. A supporter 
donated the land, but the group needs about $3-million to build 
research facilities and eventually an off-site visitor center in 
nearby Lahaina.

Researchers hope the jungle environment makes the gorillas feel more at home.

At age 31, Koko is running out of time to reproduce. It never 
happened with Michael because she loved him like a brother, her 
keepers said. Subsequent suitors didn't light her fire.

Schoonover and gallery co-owner Billie Cox-Glimpse plan to make the 
gorilla art exhibit an annual event. At tonight's reception, they 
will pass out literature about the foundation and show a 12-minute 
video of the gorillas in action.

The public is invited.

"We want to make people aware that their closest living primate 
relatives are being slaughtered every day," Schoonover said.

Ape artwork won't be the only allure. The exhibit also features items 
from Tampa-area artists Daniel Dew, Richard Stewart and Marc 

Dew makes colored prints from carved wood blocks. Stewart creates 
computer-enhanced nature photographs. Sonenberg works in ceramics.
They leave the painting to the gorillas.

About the artists:
BORN: March 1973 in Cameroon, Africa
DIED: April 19, 2000
FAMILY: Killed by poachers
HEIGHT: 6 feet
WEIGHT: 450 pounds
FAVORITE FOODS: Nuts, apples, peanut butter sandwiches
FAVORITE TV SHOWS: Sesame Street and Mister Rogers
FAVORITE TOY: Construction pipes
FAVORITE MUSIC: Opera sung by Luciano Pavarotti

BORN: July 4, 1971, at the San Francisco Zoo
HEIGHT: 5 feet 1
WEIGHT: 280 pounds
FAVORITE FOOD: Nuts, gourmet tofu dishes, apples, corn on the cob
FAVORITE TOY: Rubber alligator
FAVORITE BOOK: The Three Little Kittens

Carrie McLaren
Editor, Stay Free!

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