This where I met Sue and we became very close. We seem to get each other and when I got the privilege to get to hear some of her inside thoughts about work. We can and have talked for hours and I'm thrilled how she embraced sharing so much with us here in this blog.
The smaller photos please click on them to enlarge!
In 2000 I was granted a sabbatical leave which gave me the amazing opportunity to make my own art full time. I was able to draw apes non-stop. I also bought my first digital camera. Now for those of us who for decades had bought film, taken photos, sent the film for processing and never knew what the photos even looked like until they were returned, this digital camera was like magic. I wallowed in that magic. I photographed everything in my life. Those photos became an installation of over 600 photos tacked to the gallery wall.
In the spring of 2001 while I was continuing my ape research and drawing, by fate, I was invited to be on a panel of Allegheny professors at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. The panel was about intelligence of all sorts. On the panel was Dr. Rob Shumaker who worked at the National Zoo Think Tank working with orangutans using symbols and computers in studying their ability to understand language and to think critically. My life was about to change. After meeting Rob and Azy the male orangutan there at the zoo, I was a commissioned to do drawings for the zoo.
Then after Rob got a new job at the Great Ape Trust of Iowa, I was commissioned to do drawings of the orangutans and bonobos who lived there. Azy accompanied Rob to Iowa.
I got to draw and eventually meet Kanzi who is a very famous bonobo who understands hundreds of spoken English words and can communicate using a very complex symbol board. When I visited, Kanzi was able to use a touch screen and he could point out what he wanted to say on the computerized symbol board. It would come out as a male voice. It took me a few minutes to get over the shock of that one. Kanzi immediately asked me for some lemonade and when I could not get that for him, he said he wanted me and the woman with me to run and play chase which we did happily laughing the whole time. Kanzi is intense to say the least.
I also got to meet Panbanisha a bonobo famous for her paintings. Getting to watch her paint was fascinating. I could feel her mind working as I watched her making decisions on colors, brushes, shapes and composition. She was so focused and intense as she worked. We human artists work hard to have the same attention and commitment.
In the fall of 2001 through my connection to Rob, I got to meet Dr. Sally Boysen who ran the Chimp Center at Ohio State University. The chimpanzees there were also communicating via computer touch screens studying numbers and language.
In 2007 during my visit to the Great Ape Trust in Iowa I had the opportunity to spend four days with the orangutans. I was invited to paint with and for the orangutans. I would work for hours. Sometimes I was painting them and sometimes I was preparing canvases for the orangutans .
During my time there the female Knobi spent hours watching me work. Perhaps I should mention that these individuals were not required to watch me, but could at their own choice. Azy the male came in for a few minutes, but left pretty quickly since he had better things to do. Knobi would come right back after Azy left. I would talk to her as I worked. She was just on the other side of the glass and could hear me perfectly. She was curious and watched carefully.
I would even ask her what colors I should use and would place jars of colors up to the window. She would choose a color by pointing with her finger and sometimes she would point with her lower lip. I know this sounds impossible, but this really did happen. I made a film about my experiences with Azy and Knobi. If you are interested, you can see this film at the Facebook link here.
I was also invited and honored to do drawings of gorillas and bonobos for the African Wildlife Foundation. I believe it is this bonobo drawing that is in their office in Washington, D.C.