Saturday Morning Artists, part 2

Posted at 3:03 pm December 20, 2006 by Cindy Spiva-Evans

The Children’s Rainforest Art Explorer program is hosted jointly by the Zoo and the SUCCESS Optimist Club and consists primarily of pediatric oncology patients and their families from Kaiser Permanente San Diego. Read Cindy’s previous blog, Saturday Morning Artists.

 hyacinth macawIt was CHILLY last Saturday””did anyone notice? Rain was in the forecast and we had to decide what to do. Inside! We’ll start inside! With Sammy””he’s spectacular and the kids will love him! And off we went!

The usual suspects turned up early, but rather than venture right into the Zoo, we made our way into the Otto Center for hot chocolate, hot coffee, and some fabulous time spent drawing and feeding walnuts to Sammy, a hyacinth macaw and Children’s Zoo resident. Joe Nyiri, their art instructor, encourages the kids to completely finish their work, adding in backgrounds and details, and reminds them to sign their work. Once finished, the portraits are photographed for the Children’s Rainforest Art Explorer Web site, to be turned into mosaics and stained-glass window designs for Kaiser Permanente’s Zion Road hospital, as well as mugs, tiles, and holiday cards. Some of the children are even uploading art they’ve been doing from home””or the hospital. And it’s spectacular!

Once the Sammy art had been finished, and it had warmed up outside, we wandered out to visit some of our favorite Zoo critters, the orangutans. Karen the orangutan has always been hugely popular with this group, perhaps because of her own medical difficulties as a youngster. She and Janey, the resident orangutan artiste, are always intrigued by what our kids are up to, and both offer suggestions””through the window, of course””as to what colors should be used in the portraits that are starting to take shape in front of them. From a bystander’s perspective, I think the simple interactions between child and ape are just as therapeutic as the art itself””the kids get to be kids, not ” cancer patients,” not ” sick,” not ” room 4114.” Just kids! Interacting with apes or macaws that are just as interested in them as they are in the animals.

Our time always flies when we’re together, and we wrapped up Saturday with a full Dr. Zoolittle show. Before we knew it, our time was up, and we made plans to reconnect again in the New Year. Dr. Zoolittle and I get to make a visit to the hospital with some animal friends next week”¦we can’t wait!!

Cindy Spiva-Evans is an educator at the San Diego Zoo.

Read blogs Karen: Will She or Won’t She? and Janey Exercises Her Keeper.

Read a blog about our ape artists, Painting with Orangutans.

Check out Janey’s profile on

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3 Responses to “Saturday Morning Artists, part 2”

  1. Shirley Sykes says:

    This is such a wonderful program , Cindy. Thanks for sharing it with us. And thanks also to Kaiser, Dr. Zoolittle, and, above all, the marvelous Joe Nyiri!!

  2. Margaret says:

    Thanks, Cindy, for an update on the program. It sounds like a great therapy session for the human animals, and great enrichment for the other animals. Sammy sounds like a beautiful bird, and I would love to meet Dr. Zoolittle.

    Joe Nyiri sounds like a fabulous art instructor and a great mentor for the kids.

    Happy Holidays and many thanks to all the animals and their keepers and friends!

  3. edel kiegher says:

    this is so inspirational this makes me want to get into art, thank you cindy!!!