Crafting In Compassion

There ARE people in this world who care about wildlife, about the environment. People who, never having visited Africa or Asia, still feel the need to contribute towards the protection of the wildlife there – because it is part of one earth, a heritage to be preserved and protected.

One unhappy day in October 2014 an elephant calf was orphaned in the Maasai Mara, Kenya. Her mother was poisoned – poached.  We were mute witnesses to a herd in mourning and a devastated, confused baby in complete despair. A rescue was underway within hours by the guardian angles of such unfortunate babies – the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.

Having been on the scene of the tragedy we had taken numerous pictures. We shared these on our blog as  a  photo-essay  We also offered them to DSWT for their record of this latest orphan they had opened their doors and hearts to. On requests from some of our readers, we wrote the story in another post. 

Over the months we watched Roi (as she was named) settle into her new home, make friends, adopt her human keepers as her extended family. We visited her, photographed her and tried our best to spread the word about this wonderful organisation, the horrors of poaching and the trauma that animals suffer because of human-wildlife conflict and human greed.

Of this strange and unhappy beginning were born unusual events and friendships.

The original pictures of Roi with her family and dead mother caught the attention of National Geographic and some of them were used in one of their online articles. Subsequently, we noticed that a number of publications had used the pictures – without our permission! – in their articles. But since DSWT was always credited we let it pass. The pictures were doing their job – providing much-needed publicity for the destruction of wildlife in Africa.

In February 2016 we received a message on facebook from Sherri Lewis introducing herself to us …

Hello, I am an artist from the United States and I make wood murals of many of the orphaned elephants rescued by The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. I would like to make a portrait of Roi using one of your photos as the basis for the design. Is it possible to obtain your permission to do so? Here is my art page. 

This is the photo I would like to use to create the design for a wood mural of Roi, if I may have your permission to do so.

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Thank you kindly, Sherri

Sundog Wood Murals by Sherri Lewis

Unique wood art for the love of wildlife. Featuring custom intarsia murals of elephants and rhinos.

The most cursory look at Sherri’s work convinced us to share our photograph with her. Our only condition was that DSWT had to be a beneficiary. Sherri’s prompt response was all we could ask for. Indeed, if we had done our homework properly, we need not have hesitated at all!

Almost a month later she informed us that the mural would soon be underway. Then came regular posts on her facebook page on the progress of her work. She was making two of them parallelly and they were incredibly beautiful works of art.

Mid April 2016 we got a surprise from Sherri.

Thank you for your kind comments on the photos of the two Roi murals in progress. I hope I am succeeding in portraying this special girl’s spirit and story. The one showing the close-up of Roi — the mural in the square frame — is a gift for you. I hope you will accept it as my way of thanking you for all you have done for her through sharing your powerful photos of her with the world.

The two murals were soon completed. The effort and love of both craft and cause clearly showed in every inch of the pieces. The details were incredible!

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We needed to know more – the motivation behind this kind of work – what drove this artist to raise funds for elephants, what made her approach us. The story of Sherri. It is a story best shared with all of you in her own words.

When I first heard the tragic news about  Satao being killed by poachers, I was emotionally shattered. The senseless, savage slaughter of this majestic soul troubled me on such a deep level that I felt the only way I could move forward through my grief was to try to help the elephants by giving from the deepest part of my heart – through my art.

After doing online research to learn about elephant conservation charities, I discovered the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.  Their mission to rescue and raise the orphans left behind when mother elephants are poached resonated with me immediately, and so I contacted them regarding my interest in creating artwork which portrays their orphans and donating the proceeds to support their conservation work.

The DSWT auctioned the very first of my elephant murals, titled “Ashaka and Kamok” for a final figure of US $ 6000 in March 2015.

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The bittersweet footnote to the Ashaka and Kamok mural is that Ashaka died three weeks after the auction (April 2015).  I created the design of that mural to honor the tender, powerful bond that these two orphans formed almost immediately upon their arrival at the DSWT.  Little did I know it would become the final tribute to her memory and to Kamok’s loss of her special friend. ♥

Since then, I have created and sold several more murals featuring many of the precious DSWT orphans. I donate a portion of the proceeds from each orphan’s portrait to the US Friends of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in the form of giving a “Gift Foster” of a DSWT orphan to the person who commissions the artwork. I have also donated a new mural of orphan Mbegu to the DSWT, which will they be auctioning in the next few months.

When I first saw in DSWT’s Facebook newsfeed the photos of Roi standing in grief over her slain mother, I was again struck by an overwhelming sense of loss as the photos let me look into the heartbroken eyes of this baby elephant. The juxtaposition of the images of Roi happily playing with her mother from the days before and now standing vigil over her mother’s body, visibly crushed by grief was incredibly powerful and poignant.

Indeed, not since Satao’s death had photos and a story of tragedy haunted me so intensely that I couldn’t shake it from my thoughts or dreams. So, when I was contacted this February by a customer who was interested in commissioning a portrait of Roi, her foster elephant, my heart jumped at the chance to portray this special elephant and honor her powerful story through my artwork.

In response to this commission request, I created two mural designs — one which reflects Roi’s playful, mischievous spirit (in reference to her naughty antics at the DSWT nursery, such as stealing milk bottles when the Keepers aren’t watching) and the transformation she and the orphans experience thanks to the rescue work of the DSWT; and one which pays tribute to the mother Roi lost and the new family and future she has found at the DSWT nursery.

The first mural is now bringing much joy and opportunity for sharing Roi’s story by its owner in California,

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and the second mural is on its journey to Kenya where this story originated, a gift from my heart to Swati and Siddharth, for bringing Roi’s story to me and to the world.

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Obviously, this totally unexpected gift is very special to both of us!

Sherri then discovered another way to raise funds for the cause by having metal prints made of her murals. These are made by having photographic images applied onto pieces of rigid metal as against a two-dimensional wooden sculpture. She is offering these at lower prices than for her original murals, thus allowing “Roi’s beauty and story” to be shared with more people.

With caring, compassionate people like Sherri, Dame Daphne Sheldrick and her team at DSWT, there is some hope left for wildlife.

We would like to add that all photographs provided by Sherri Lewis and quotations by her are included in this blog post with her explicit approval and permission.