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Statue auction raises thousands of dollars for elephant sanctuary

The elephant statues that have decorated downtown Erwin in recent months were auctioned off on Saturday, Oct. 21, at The Gathering Place Park. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

By Kendal Groner

Efforts to remove the dark stain that the hanging of Mary the circus elephant in 1916 cast over the Town of Erwin continued this past weekend. On Oct. 21, the fiberglass elephants that had been on display throughout downtown in recent months were auctioned off at The Gathering Place Park.

The auction was a follow-up event to the Elephant Revival that took place last month, a series of events sponsored by RISE Erwin, a community organization, to raise funds for The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee. The fiberglass elephants came from the Elephant Parade Organization in Denmark, and each of the eight elephants had a separate artist and local sponsor.

“We are very fortunate to have been able to get these fiberglass molds and elephants here,” said Kristin Anders, RISE Erwin member. “They actually use the statues over there to raise awareness for ivory tusking.”

Before the elephants were auctioned off, those attending the event had the chance to check out local food trucks, enjoy entertainment provided by ETSU’s bluegrass faculty and bid on the elephant murals that were painted by Unicoi County High School students and displayed at The Elephant Revival.

“I don’t know if you guys realize that when you woke up this morning you were going to be a part of a story that started 100 years ago, and it was a story that’s stuck with our town and it’s been tragic and dark,” Jamie Rice, RISE Erwin president said to the crowd. “But just the fact that you guys are here, you’re bringing that story into the light and you’re helping us bring wonderful, colorful expressions of who Erwin really is.”

Kimball Sterling, a local auctioneer who volunteered his services for the event, enticed bidders with much enthusiasm and charisma. Five elephant murals were sold for $275, $250, $225 and the last two sold together for $300, raising $1050 from the murals alone. Next, was the much anticipated bidding process for the elephant statues.

“This is the first elephant auction in town, 25 years from now these could be worth a fortune,” Sterling told the bidders. “You guys have done a really professional job on these elephant statues and you should be proud of the artists and your town for letting this happen. These are great pieces of art.”

One of the statues was purchased outright as a private donation from a local resident and donated to the Town of Erwin. The other statues were purchased by Johnson City residents, a Kingsport resident, a Unicoi County farm and a Tri-Cities art collector who purchased two elephants.

“Ella” sponsored by Lois B. Shults-Davis and painted by Russ Bradley was auctioned off at $2,100;

“Gaia” sponsored by the Town of Erwin and painted by Stacy Jones was auctioned off at $2,000;

“Nammu” sponsored by Capitol Cinemas I & II and painted by J Frank Stewart was auctioned off at $3,100;

“Sir Elephant” sponsored by Paul and Missy Farnor and painted by the UCHS Art Department was auctioned off at $3,100;

“Tarra” sponsored by Janet Ayers & Joyce Schwenke and painted by Laura Lavinder was privately donated to the town;

“Peel, Hebrew for Elephant” sponsored by the Town of Erwin and painted by Debbie Stoia was auctioned off at $1,900;

“Habbi: My Little Dear” sponsored by the Town of Erwin and painted by Ginger Naseri was auctioned off at $2,100;

“Iris” sponsored by the Town of Erwin and painted by Valerie Bradley was auctioned off at $1,600.

After RISE Erwin reimburses the Town of Erwin for their original investment, the rest of the money raised from the auction and the Elephant Revival will go straight to the Elephant Sanctuary. According to Rice, the amount of funds raised this year will be much higher than last year.

“I’m still kind of in shock from how well the auction went,” she said. “My estimate is $11,000 or $12,000 will go straight to the sanctuary. We might have even more than that once we factor in the luau tickets we sold and other smaller items that have been sold.”