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‘Herd’ the news? Elephants are back in town!

Vollie, top photo, and Doll E, above, are two of the new herd of elephants now greeting visitors to downtown Erwin. (Photos contributed by Ryan Taylor Photography)

By Richard Rourk

The Erwin Elephant Revival has returned to Erwin, and this year the statues are larger and more colorful than ever.

“They are huge, even bigger on the stands,” Town of Erwin Communications Specialist Jamie Rice said of the new herd. “You can’t miss them. They certainly have a shock factor.”

The Erwin Elephant Revival brings sponsored elephant statutes that have been painted by local artists to downtown Erwin. The statues will be on display until they are auctioned off and proceeds will be given to the sponsor’s choice of charity and the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee.

The first revival partnered with the Elephant Parade and The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee as a way to raise money and awareness of rescued elephants in memory of Mary the elephant. Mary was executed in the Clinchfield Railroad Yard in Erwin on Sept. 13, 1916.

The eight new 60-inch statues are on full display starting from town hall all the way to the corner of Main Avenue and Love Street.

“This year the statues doubled in size – they went from 30 inches to almost 60 inches,” Rice said. “We have something for everyone.”

The herd includes:

• “Galaxy” by Valerie Bradley;

• “Coat of Many Colors” by Brother’s Keeper and sponsored by Green and Callie Faircloth for Brother’s Keeper;

• “Doll E,” by Gail Oliver and sponsored by Unicoi County Imagination Library for the Unicoi County Imagination Library;

• “Sweet Pea” by Erin Miller and sponsored by Gordon Moughon, M.D. for the Jerusalem Center for Bible Translators;

• “Poppy Lichtenstein” designed by Toby Tipton and Annette Tipton and painted by the Unicoi County High School Art Department;

• “Horton Celebrates Dr. Seuss” by Joel Hammitt and sponsored by McDonald’s of Erwin for the Southern Appalachian Ronald McDonald House Charities, Inc.;

• “Iris” by John Stewart;

• “Vollie” by Myriah Woodby.

According to Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley, the elephants are a huge hit with both locals and tourists.

“We get calls all the time about the elephants and it’s good to see them out again,” Hensley said.

Rice acknowledged that COVID-19 caused a delay in unleashing the herd, which usually debuts during the Erwin Great Outdoors Festival, which was canceled in May due to COVID-19.

“Like everything in 2020, our elephant herd debut was delayed due to COVID-19,” Rice said. “Our normal display schedule is May until mid-October. The outdoor festival was canceled for COVID and the schools normally clear coat them for us which were closed. Luckily, the very generous Mr. (John) Lewis of the auto body class at the vocational school worked with us and was still able to get them clear coated this year, it just took a little longer than expected. We will try and keep these on display through November, weather permitting.”

According to Rice, there is still a chance for anyone or any organization that would like to sponsor an elephant statue.

“We have four sponsors this year, so four other sponsors are needed,” Rice said. “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, RISE will not hold a live public auction this year. We will be collecting bids all summer long through Dec. 1. The highest bidder may take possession of the statue at that time – just in time for Christmas.”

Rice is thankful for all who make the Erwin Elephant Revival a reality.

“As evident from the quality of artwork, these volunteer artists have donated so much creative energy to this process, including Mr. John Lewis of the CTE, and the sponsors who believe in the power of public art,” Rice said.

Proceeds will go to the sponsor’s beneficiary and the Elephant Sanctuary. Bidding begins at $1,500.

For more information, call 220-7624 or visit erwintn.org.