A group of local artists hope to make a big difference to help some orphans half a world away grow up to carry the torch for the world’s largest land animals.
The Studio B Art Gallery in Myrtle Beach and misc. Everything Murrells Inlet gallery in Murrells Inlet have each set up displays of at least 50 artworks from which sales, along with silent auctions and donations, will benefit the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Formal shows will be noon-10 p.m. Wednesday at Studio B and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. next Thursdayat the Murrells Inlet gallery.
The London-based charity supports about 25 orphaned African elephants, as well as other endangered wildlife such as black rhinos, in a sanctuary in Nairobi, Kenya.
Nicholas Mariano, who lives just south of Myrtle Beach, visited the elephant nursery in August. The former agent for the U.S. Department of State travels abroad often as part of companies contracted in helping teach enhanced anti-terrorism security to authorities in other governments.
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Studio B’s owner, Bill Blair, features a different artist monthly, said Mariano, who was offered the slot for February. A professional diver who takes photos in and out of water as a hobby to sell as art for fun, not as a source of income, Mariano said he in turn asked about coordinating a charity benefit with other local artists for the Sheldrick Trust.
Having fostered two elephant calves already, he saw the opportunity ro raise awareness about the elephant’s plight in the constant struggle of the species presented by poachers who export the ivory from their trunks for sheer profit.
Mariano also pitched the idea to misc. Everything Murrells Inlet, which adds “good exposure for both shops.”
“The response has been really good,” he said, counting close to 12 artists who have donated works at each place.
The pieces reflect not only elephant motifs such as in sculpture, jewelry, quilts and photos – and hard-to-acquire prints of two watercolors by Angela Sheldrick for silent auction – but art of other subjects, all to help the trust, which spends a few hundred dollars a month to care for each resident, Mariano said.
“It’s going to be a big array of stuff,” he said, also eager to promote the elephant fostering program.
Mariano said for $50, anyone can foster an orphan, receiving a photo, certificate and a year’s worth of monthly email updates on the calf’s daily life as kept in diaries by sanctuary gamekeepers.
‘Big coconut with hair’
Calling each juvenile pachyderm “a big coconut with hair,” Mariano said these adventures resemble watching the lives “of little kids,” all with different personalities, and likes and dislikes – just like people.
He said the foster adoptions have made great gifts given to children and grandchildren because unlike a toy for which the allure might ebb after a while, “they can follow” the progress of the elephant.
“The kids love getting the emails,” Mariano said, noting adults also find pleasure in such connections.
Hoping to return to the sanctuary this year when he’s tackling more police training in Africa, Mariano said one of the two elephants he fostered has grown and graduated from the nursery as the next step toward introduction in the wild in a neighboring preserve.
“When you say ‘a baby elephant,’ you kind of think of a monstrous thing,” he said. “When you get there, some of them are less than 3 feet high.”
Mariano can’t forget seeing the orphans marching, wearing “little colored blankets” for extra protection from elements and infection.
“You see a big line of these little babies coming back on a trail from a field,” he said. “How can you not be touched by it?”
Mariano said he savors the sights accessed from his training mission worldwide, also “going to places you would never go on vacation,” such as Mauritania, in west Africa, last year. He remembered seeing goats and donkeys on streets, and sales at a camel market.
With his wife of 43 years, Pat Mariano, an artist who makes quilted postcards, they don’t have children, but Nick Mariano said their family comprise “two dogs, two cats and two baby elephants.”
Combating an injustice
Bernadette Delgado, owner of misc. Everything Murrells Inlet, said she first learned of the Sheldrick Trust from an NBC broadcast feature, so “when Nick came to me” with his benefit proposal, “I was aware” of the effort to reverse the tide of ruthless renegades who slaughter elephants for their tusks.
“That was what captivated me first,” she said. “I’m a huge supporter of animals, and when I see an injustice, it makes me sick, and I want to help.”
Delgado said “Nick’s making it possible” for extra awareness for this cause, and with his global travels and seeing this endeavor at work, “it makes it more credible.”
Having this tag-team fundraiser puts a spark in a slower time of year for gallery traffic, she said, gracious for all the artists donating “some really neat pieces” such a “photos of elephant ears.”
Delgado also credited Mariano, who “inspired me to adopt my own elephant” – Quanza, whose mother and two sisters were killed by poachers when she was about 1 year old.
“I just got my first keeper’s diary,” she said. “She’s just adorable.”
Reading the logs tugs at Delgado’s heart, thankful for such firsthand observations of the residents.
“They send lots of photos of them playing in mud baths and playing with other animals,” Delgado said. “They seem to be very affectionate, more than you think. They literally put their trunks around one another. It’s almost like a hug.”