By Diane Urbani de la Paz
SEQUIM — Sherri Lewis used to make her living doing pet portraits: images in smooth wood of collies, huskies, hounds.
Business was so good that Lewis had no time left to explore.
Not one to keep doing the same thing over and over, Lewis' mind was on other artistic frontiers.
Then, last May, she heard the news of Satao's death in Kenya. Believed to be the largest African elephant on Earth, he was killed for his ivory tusks.
For reasons Lewis can't put into words, elephants had always resonated with her.
Satao's loss “cracked me open,” she said.
“I thought: What are we doing?”
Not long after that, Lewis saw another news story about Gertjie, a baby rhinoceros.
He was found crying beside his dead mother in South Africa. Poachers had cut off her horn.
Lewis learned that the baby, at 2 months old, would be milk-dependent for another 16 months.
She also learned of the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre, which cares for orphaned rhinos, including Gertjie.
Once abundant across the African continent, rhinos are being poached at a rate — 1,215 last year, according to the South African Department of Environmental Affairs — that could mean extinction in the near future.
In the face of this, Lewis felt helpless, but not for long.
I can do something
It dawned on her: As an artist, I can do something.
Lewis got busy building an intarsia — a mural in wood — depicting Gertjie walking in the wilds.
She sent the original to the Hoedspruit Centre, then got to work on a second mural of Matimba, another orphaned rhino there.
She took photographs of the Matimba image, turned them into note cards and large refrigerator magnets — and sold them via her website, www.sundogmurals.com, bringing in some $2,000 so far.
The money has gone to the center for care for the young rhinos.
On the Gertjie magnets, a quotation from Mohandas Gandhi epitomizes the artist's feeling: “The heart sees what is invisible to the eye.”
As so often happens with such things, one project led to another.
Lewis has recently finished another mural of two young elephants, Ashaka and Kamok, to be auctioned online beginning Tuesday.
A link to the auction site will be available on www.sundogmurals.com and on the “Sundog Murals by Sherri Lewis” Facebook page.
Bidding will continue through March 22, with proceeds going to Kenya's David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which rescues and hand-rears orphaned rhinos and elephants.
Lewis hopes the mural auction will bring in several hundred dollars.
Meantime, she's fashioned some more pieces for those with different budgets.
Her refrigerator magnets, jewelry and note cards are priced from $6.50 for one large magnet to $38 for a set of nine.
Online bidding and sales are ideal for Lewis.
She does sell her wood murals at Wild Birds Unlimited, 275953 U.S. Highway 101 in Gardiner, but isn't the type to go to art festivals and gallery openings.
Lewis works happily in her shop east of Sequim, beside the house she and her partner, Kelly Thomas, built.
The shop is filled with wood, in odd shapes, jewel tones and all sizes.
Poplar, cedar and maple are the “meat and potatoes” of her artwork, Lewis says, and she gets them at the hardware store in Sequim.
But the exotics, such as purple heart, ebony and pink wood from Zimbabwe, come to her from other local artists.
Boat builders, woodworkers and luthier Dean Moore of DKM Guitars keep Lewis supplied with these colors, which she uses for the finer details.
Lewis has been busy with commissions lately and proudly shows a visitor “Mbegu,” a mural she created for a client in Maine.
But she is just as radiant beside the work she's giving away.
“This gives me the feeling that I'm doing something” for the wild rhinos and elephants, Lewis said.
“I can't go out and stand guard to save them. But I can help the people who are.
“The things that trouble us most,” she added, “might be our opportunities to stand up and do something.”