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September 6, 2012

Glimmerglass vine elephants headed to Norwich

By Charlie M. Holmes
Contributing Writer

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The "Aida" elephants that spent this summer at the Glimmerglass Festival Opera House have found a new home in Norwich. 
In an online auction, Bill Smith placed the winning bid of $3,900. The money raised will be split between Glimmerglass Festival Opera House and the artist who created the elephants, Elizabeth Schoonmaker. 
The auction opened for bids the same night as "Aida" (July 7) closed Aug. 25, the end of this year's opera season. Smith plans on placing the elephants on his lawn along with some other sculptures he has on a hill. 
The idea for the elephants formed after Schoonmaker showed the Development Director at Glimmerglass Festival Opera House Tara Sumner a photo of similar animals she had created and placed on her lawn. 
"One of them was an elephant," Sumner said, "so I sent the picture to Francesca (Zambello, the Glimmberglass general artistic director). I said, 'I know everybody is asking about 'Aida' whether we're going to have elephants on the stage. Maybe we could have some outside.' And she said, 'Good idea.' So that's how it all started." 
Schoonmaker began creating the elephants March 20 and worked on them every day except three until June 26. 
"It's a rebar metal frame," Schoonmaker said. "From there, I wrap it with willow then wild grapevines." 
To make the elephants, Schoonmaker gathered cut 40 truckloads of vines and went through 12 pairs of Dollar Store gardening gloves. By the time she was finished, she had made elephants that weighed in somewhere between 800 to 900 pounds, and stood 11 feet high and 17 feet long. According to the Bronx Zoo, that's pretty close to the real thing, with the exception of weight. 
"The whole thing started because it was a way for me to understand how I draw," Schoonmaker said. 
The willow grapevines represent lines that Schoonmaker draws on a page. By actually making a sculpture, she was able to better understand how to add depth to her drawings. Some of the animals Schoonmaker has made are featured in a book she wrote for children called "Square Cat." 
The elephants may be gone from Glimmerglass Festival facility, but next year there may be a new sculpture to replace them. 
"Now we're thinking this is such a great campus. It sort of cries out for sculpture, right?" Sumner said. "So maybe we'll do something more next year." 
Tickets for the 2013 season at Glimmerglass will go on sale Nov. 19. For more information, visit