In September I had the rare opportunity to paint on location in a chimp sanctuary. I got to see, up close, the wonderful work being done by Save the Chimps to feed, care for, and provide a wonderful life for 250 rescued chimpanzees. These cousins of ours have incredible stories of surviving horrible experiences, and here they find safety and a chance to heal.
I took my plein air painting kit over on a very warm day and set up painting outside an enclosure housing Nigita. Most of the chimps are housed on large islands, and since they’re allowed to roam and I’m not (humans are not allowed in their spaces for safety reasons), I looked for the most accessible subjects. I chose to paint outside the Special Needs Facility, which provides spacious enclosures for those that can’t co-habitate with the other chimps, either temporarily for medical reasons or more long-term because of trauma or behavior. Nigita seemed interested in me and willing to stay close, so I quickly set up my oil paints and began working to capture a likeness. He sat patiently for a while, but then, like many of my younger human subjects, he grew bored with watching me paint. He wandered off, moving out of my view to see what the other chimps were up to.
So then I moved over to Cheetah, known at the sanctuary for being a prolific artist himself. All these chimps have amazing life stories, and they are posted on the website of Save the Chimps, along with their photos and information about the sanctuary. Read their stories! Cheetah was clearly very interested in what I was doing as I began to paint. He watched intently, and I kept my painting turned so he could see it. When I pointed at it, he nodded and opened his mouth (which I’m told is a very positive reaction). We made chimp sounds to one another, which is fun once you get the hang of it. He loved seeing me mix color, and stayed right with me for over an hour, and would have stayed longer except that I had to leave. It was a magical experience, and one I hope to repeat. Next time, I’m told we can arrange for Cheetah to have his own paints with him, so we can create simultaneously. As you’ll see on their website, he loves to paint, so I’m looking forward to sharing that experience with this wonderful artist.
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