Rama’s greatest gifts did not begin to be revealed until 2001. After a routine medical test during which Rama was asked to spray a saline solution into a container, Rama kept following the keepers around, blowing air out of his trunk. In order to teach him stop the behavior, the behavior was named, repeated, and then Rama was instructed not to do that. However, while watching his children play with paint at their birthday party, keeper Jeb Barsh got the idea to utilize Rama’s fascination with spraying, and train him to paint. Rama showed exceptional interest in spray and brush painting, and practicing these skills every week with Jeb became Rama’s opportunity to thrive.
People loved Rama. He amazed the children. His paintings usually sold before they had time to dry. Rama generated more than $100,000 in painting sales. His Portland Pearl District exhibition at the Mark Woolley Gallery was a sell-out, and his list of commissions kept growing.
In the summer of 2006, while on vacation in Seattle with her two teenaged children, Leianna and Noa, Calley took her children to the zoo for the first time. She was moved and inspired by the Woodland Park Zoo, opening her mind to what zoos could be. Calley had been strongly drawn to visit Portland, because of its global reputation as a model green city. On their weekend trip to Portland, they visited the Oregon Zoo, arriving at the elephant barn at the exact moment when Rama began his Sunday painting demonstration with keeper Jeb Barsh. As soon as Rama started painting, Calley was overwhelmed by a vision of an international travelling exhibition on endangered species that would reach millions of people. She knew in her bones that she had to work with him!
After Rama’s startling demonstration, based on pure intuition in the moment, Calley offered an on-the-spot proposal to create a collaborative touring exhibition to help build awareness toward a life support system for imperiled species through art.
A year later, Calley arrived at the elephant barn as a project volunteer for a month. Thus began the wildest and most meaningful creative experience of her life. With the keepers’ support, Rama, Jeb and Calley painted together intensively each summer for five years, and Calley continues to dedicate herself to work on the paintings and exhibition year round.
The first time I saw Rama paint, the Rama Exhibition came through me as a vision. I felt it in every cell, and it was so compelling and clear that I had to follow the vision, no matter what. Calley O'Neill
An International Traveling Exhibition of Endangered Species
Dedicated to the Children of the World by Calley O'Neill with Rama the Elephant
AN EPIC JOURNEY OF ART AND SOUL FOR THE EARTH
RAMA: AMBASSADOR FOR THE ENDANGERED ONES
Speaking Passionately on Behalf of Those who Cannot Speak