The first group of elephants that could be found along Main Avenue in downtown Erwin, including this one, have been auctioned off. But, a new herd will soon be on its way. RISE Erwin is currently seeking artists to paint the new statues. (File photo)

By Kendal Groner

A new herd of eight baby elephants will soon be gracing downtown Erwin with their presence. After the first bunch of elephant statues received such a positive community response, the volunteer organization RISE Erwin wanted to reintroduce the masterpieces with the help of local artists.

Following the 100 year anniversary of the infamous hanging of Mary the circus elephant in an Erwin railyard, RISE introduced the elephant statues along with the Elephant Revival event to raise funds for the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald Tennessee.

“Our goal is to make this an annual thing,” said Jamie Rice, RISE Erwin member. “Everyone saw how much positive attention it brought to Erwin last year. We are thinking that the statues will be displayed downtown for six months, and then auctioned off again.”

Some of the statues were purchased up front by the Town of Erwin, and others were sponsored by locals. The statues are made of fiberglass and come from a social enterprise based in Thailand known as the Elephant Parade. The Elephant Parade seeks to raise awareness on elephant conservation and currently runs the largest art exhibition of decorated elephant statues.

After the auction of the eight elephant statues last year, the statues sold for over $15,000 collectively, and allowed RISE to donate over $10,000 to the Elephant Sanctuary. This year, a portion of the funds will once again benefit the Elephant Sanctuary, but another portion will go toward charities chosen by the sponsors.

“We will probably let the sponsors have a say in where the money goes,” Rice explained. “So for instance if someone had a passion for the animal shelter, they could tell us they wanted some proceeds to benefit them. “We want to be sensitive to our local communities and charities and what they need.”

RISE is once again seeking local artists to construct creative and original designs to decorate the statues. Following the auction of the first bunch of elephants, four people automatically volunteered to be sponsors of statues this year.

Rice also said that after posting a flyer on RISE Erwin’s Facebook page, she has been amazed at the enthusiasm exhibited by community members.

“I posted the flyer, and it has been the most popular flyer that we’ve had in three years,” she exclaimed. “I’ve gotten probably 60 different people that have emailed RISE wanting to volunteer to be an artist. The first year I was basically calling my friends, and begging people to be an artist, but this year it has been so successful.”

The elephant statue auction is modeled off of a similar program that has been occurring in downtown Hendersonville, North Carolina for close to two decades.

Each year, 20 fiberglass hand painted bear statues that are sponsored by local businesses and painted by local artists are displayed throughout the summer before being auctioned off to benefit an array of local charities.

There are no stipulations for the submissions by local artists other than they be cheerful and vibrant. RISE is asking that all artists have their submissions turned in by Feb. 1. After the deadline, a committee will pick the top eight submissions and then send those off to the Elephant Parade in Thailand for final review.

For more information on the elephant statues, or if you are a local artist interested in making a submission, contact RISE Erwin at RISEERWIN@gmail.com.