by Calley O'Neill and the Rama Team, Featuring Rama, the Artist Elephant
A JOURNEY OF ART AND SOUL FOR THE EARTH
RAMA: AMBASSADOR FOR THE ENDANGERED ONES
Speaking Passionately on Behalf of Those who Cannot Speak
by Calley O’Neill and Rama the Elephant with Jeb Barsh
ASIAN ELEPHANT (ELEPHAS MAXIMUS)
STATUS: Endangered, CITES l Listed as endangered since 1986 due to severe habitat losses and poaching for the ivory trade. There are many conservation efforts under way. Elephants are protected internationally against poaching and trading.
THE BACKGROUND STORY OF APRIL FOOL
It’s quite a process just to get into the elephant barn… One morning, early in the project, I had just arrived and set up in the barn when I heard this clear voice inside say, “Paint the canvas black.” Having learned well to heed this inner voice, I told Jeb I had to leave and go buy black primer at the art supply store across town, and somehow I would be back in time to have the canvas primed and the paints mixed by 11:15 when we had to have the set-up ready for the Rama’s painting demonstration. When I got back and finished stretching and applying black gesso on the large canvas, with just minutes to go, Jeb literally threw another canvas on the bales of hay (my drafting table) and said, “Paint this one black too!” These two black canvases are now two of Rama’s masterpieces. April Fool is one of the finest abstract expressionist works I’ve ever seen. Jeb was totally in tune with Rama’s energy and rhythm and reflected in rhythmic response. The result? Pure magic!
APRIL FOOL: THE BIRTH OF RAMA
One of Rama’s keepers, Jeb Barsh discovered Rama’s painting abilities during a routine health test for tuberculosis in 2006. A keeper put a sterile saline solution into his trunk and asked him to hold it for a few moments and then spray it into a sterile lab container. Rama liked the breathing exercise so much that he began following keepers around, blowing air out his trunk. Apparently annoying, he persisted anyway.
After careful consideration, Jeb introduced nontoxic tempera paints into the tip of Rama’s trunk, and Rama’s career was off and running. Rama quickly mastered spray painting and began working with a brush, which involves his strong trunk muscles and gives him creative freedom. As Rama brushes, his ears flex and he shakes his head, showing interest and excitement. Rama can walk away at any time and choose not to paint. Instead, he paints and in the process moves people’s hearts.
Born on April Fool’s Day (April 1) 1983, and well known in Portland, Rama is Oregon’s biggest artist, and may just be the best abstract expressionist painter in the world. The youngest son of Packy and Rosy, the Oregon Zoo’s most prestigious pachyderms, Rama was destined for fame. Famed as the first elephant ever born in North America, Packy was knighted by the Royal Rosarians as Sir Packy in celebration of his fiftieth birthday in 2012! Rama inherited his friendly personality from Rosy. Aside from young Samudra, Rama is the smallest of four bulls, weighing roughly 8,270 pounds.