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Elephant statues to go up for auction

Sir Elephant, completed by the Unicoi County High School Art Department, is one of eight elephant statues decorated through the Erwin Trunk Project. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Brad Hicks)

By Brad Hicks

The eight elegantly enameled elephant statues completed through the Erwin Trunk Project have been on display in downtown Erwin for a little more than a month now, and the small pachyderms continue to create a big buzz.

“We’ve had an incredible response,” Erwin Communications Specialist Jamie Rice said.

The RISE Erwin young professionals group, of which Rice is president, is doing its part to promote the elephant statues. The group is encouraging folks to break out their cell phones, strike a pose alongside one of the colorful critters, and share their pictures on social media.

“To try and keep the buzz going for the social media aspect, we’ve created a hashtag for people to use on Instagram and it’s called #showyourtrunk,” Rice said. “It’s basically when people take selfies and they’re downtown with the elephants, it’s a way for us to track how many people are taking pictures with them and keeping the excitement going.”

And the group is receiving help in its efforts to promote Erwin’s first public art project. The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, the Hohenwald-based elephant refuge that the Erwin Trunk Project will ultimately benefit, featured the story last month in the “EleNotes” newsletter the Elephant Sanctuary sends to its donors, as well as on its social media feeds.

“RISE actually had a little volunteer trip to the Elephant Sanctuary, and so we were in their newsletter and we got a lot of response right after that where people found out what we were doing,” Rice said.

Rice said it has led to contacts from people from all over the country who are interested in either coming to Erwin to see the statues in person during the upcoming Erwin Elephant Revival or to buy one when they go up for auction.

“Just with their audience that they are capable of reaching, I’ve had people from Montana call me, I’ve had people from Florida call, so people are really excited about seeing these little elephants all over town,” Rice said.

The statues are set to be auctioned on Oct. 21, with proceeds going to the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. And Rice said local officials have come up with a solution for out-of-towners or those outside of the state interested in purchasing one of the statues but unable to attend the live auction. She said a bidder form has been created, and this form will be shared on the Erwin Elephant Revival’s website and Facebook page.

“Basically, anyone who wants to place a bid that can’t actually be here in person can just fill out this form and give us their maximum amount they would like for us to bid and then we’ll assign a live bidder for them the night of the auction,” Rice said.

The Erwin Trunk Project is a public art initiative and continuation of last year’s Erwin Elephant Revival, an event held with the dual purpose of erasing the stigma the town has carried since the 1916 handling of Mary the circus elephant in the Erwin rail yard and to raise funds for the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. The event raised more than $7,000 for the Elephant Sanctuary.

Last year, the Town of Erwin purchased the eight fiberglass statues from the Elephant Parade, an international organization that was established more than a decade ago in The Netherlands and which is dedicated to combatting the extinction of elephants. The Elephant Parade funds its mission through the sale of elephant figurines, which are decorated by artists and celebrities.

The unpainted statues were displayed during the Erwin Elephant Revival Glow Parade, which was held in September and served to mark the culmination of the monthlong Erwin Elephant Revival event. Sponsors, including area businesses and individuals, as well as the Town of Erwin, were acquired for the statues, and the sponsored statues were sent to artists throughout the region to lend their creative touch to the project. 

The completed statues debuted during the Erwin Great Outdoors Festival held on May 6 and were placed in various locations along North Main Avenue days later.

The second installment of Erwin Elephant Revival is set to be held this September, the month before the statues purchased as part of the inaugural Elephant Revival are to be auctioned. Because of this, Rice said the painted parade of pachyderms will be a centerpiece of this year’s event.

Rice said organizers are still working to iron out the details of this year’s two-day Erwin Elephant Revival, but she said the first night could include an outdoor block party including a fundraising dinner. The next evening could feature glow-themed activities, buskers and live entertainment.

“We’re still trying to work out the details on that, but we’ve got some good things up our sleeve, I think,” Rice said.

And, the next Elephant Revival could feature another public art project. To go along with the second night’s glow theme, Rice said she would like to see downtown decorated with lanterns similar to those seen in the Jamaica Pond Lantern Parade, an event held each year in Massachusetts. These lanterns are essentially made by placing a candle inside a 2-liter bottle after the top of the bottle has been cut away. Tissue paper of various colors is affixed to the bottles to create designs and give off a stained glass effect.

Rice said she would like to see local civic organizations and other agencies take part in this project by encouraging children to make their own lanterns.

“It would be something different, but it would still be really cheerful and get people excited about what we’re doing,” Rice said.

And, another initiative similar to the Erwin Trunk Project may be on the horizon.

“We’re hoping, if this goes really well, that the town will allow us to get another little herd of elephants for next year and have a new batch of artists and it’ll be a completely new public art project to keep people coming downtown and see the new elephants,” Rice said.