The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

These artists are a bunch of animals

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American Alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) paint art for the Aquarium's fall fundraising auction.An American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) paints art for the fall fundraising auction for the Tennessee Aquarium. The auction runs through Sept. 26.  Tennessee Aquarium

Wildlife masterpieces mark an artistic autumnal fundraiser for the Tennessee Aquarium

CHATTANOOGA — While getting ready to tackle his next artistic masterpiece at the Tennessee Aquarium, Avior the red-ruffed lemur likes to take a few steps to center himself: languid naps in the sunshine, delicate nibbles of romaine lettuce, a resounding howl to focus his energy. 

Only after these rituals are complete can this master of composition — a true “Lemur-nardo” da Vinci — begin putting paw and tail to canvas to create his next opus. 

Avior’s latest triumph — made using non-toxic, animal-friendly tempura paint, naturally — is a 16-by-20-inch piece created in collaboration with his fellow lemurs and social media star Atlanta-based artist Andrea Nelson (TikTok video). Avior and Nelson’s masterwork is one of more than two dozen pieces of art made by aquarium animals now up for bid during the Tennessee Aquarium’s online fall fundraising auction. The auction will conclude at noon on Monday, Sept. 26.

Utilizing safe, water-based paint and assisted by their human caregivers, 22 of the aquarium’s resident species pressed paws, claws, scales, shells and flippers to canvas to create distinctive works of art. Interested humans can even bid on an opportunity to collaborate with some of the facility’s animals on their own art projects. 

Among the experiences up for bid is an opportunity to explore the bayous of the Delta Country gallery to feed turtles and watch an alligator enrichment session. Bidders can also vie for the chance to prepare a diet of capelin and squid for the aquarium’s sharks, and then feed it to them.

These one-of-a-kind animal encounters, like a painting session with a Gentoo penguin, a meet-and-greet with a giant Pacific octopus, or a close encounter with a ring-tailed lemur, are just a few of the unique opportunities up for grabs in this year’s auction.  

“We have more than a dozen different interactive experiences available this year, including going behind the scenes of our Turtle Nursery or doing a photo safari with our resident photographer Todd Stailey,” says Director of Hospitality and Marketing Meredith Roberts. “And naturally, we have some amazing art up for auction, by humans and animals alike.” 

The experiences don’t end at the walls of the aquarium. Local vacation (or staycation) packages featuring overnight hotel stays, local restaurants, and attraction visits are also available. 

If a close encounter with an animal doesn’t pique your interest, how about a gift basket and artwork donated by celebrity chef Guy Fieri? Featuring a signed copy of his book, Guy Fieri Family Food, and a one-of-a-kind painting created by the Aquarium’s lemurs and signed by the mayor of Flavortown himself, this item is sure to be popular with both foodies and Fieri fans. 

Works of art generously donated by talented local and regional artists are also up for bid, including:

  • A triptych painting of freshwater fish created during the aquarium’s 30th Anniversary Community Celebration by artist Kevin Bate.

The auction also features items created by talented human artists and craftspeople from the aquarium’s staff and volunteers, including prints by its professional and amateur photographers, watercolor paintings, and hand-knitted shawls and scarves. 

Bidders also have an opportunity to own a piece of aquarium history. Hand-woven baskets, birdhouses and milk pails that once were displayed on the Folk Art Wall in the aquarium’s River Journey building are all available for bidding in the auction. 

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