As part of Rama's enrichment program, (stimulation of body and mind) innovative Oregon zookeeper Jeb Barsh got the idea to train him to paint. Rama showed exceptional interest in spray and brush painting. He practiced these skills every week with Jeb, and this became Rama’s opportunity to thrive.
Everyone loved Rama! He amazed the children of all ages. His paintings sold before they even had time to dry. Rama generated more than $100,000 in painting sales. His outstanding Portland Pearl District exhibition at the Mark Woolley Gallery was a sell-out, and his list of commissions kept growing
In the summer of 2006, while on vacation in Seattle with her two teenaged children, Leianna and Noa, Calley took her children to the zoo for the first time. She was surprised and inspired by the Woodland Park Zoo, opening her mind to what zoos have become. Calley had been strongly drawn to visit Portland, because of its global reputation as a model green city. On their weekend trip to Portland, they visited the Oregon Zoo, arriving at the elephant barn at the exact moment when Rama began his Sunday painting demonstration. As soon as Rama started painting, Calley was overwhelmed by a vision of an international travelling exhibition on endangered species that would reach millions of people. She knew in her bones that she had to work with him!
After Rama’s stunning demonstration, Calley spontaneously offered an on-the-spot proposal to create a collaborative touring exhibition to help build awareness and a life support system for imperiled species through the fusion of art and ecology.
A year later, Calley arrived at the elephant barn as a project volunteer for a month. Thus began the wildest and most meaningful creative experience of her life. With the keepers’ support, Rama, Jeb and Calley painted together intensively each summer for five years. Calley continues work on the paintings and exhibition year round.
The first time I saw Rama paint, the Rama Exhibition came through me as a vision. I felt it in every cell, and it was so compelling and clear that I had to follow the vision, no matter what. Calley O'Neill
RAMA: AMBASSADOR FOR THE ENDANGERED ONES
Speaking Passionately on Behalf of Those who Cannot Speak