Written by: Heather Clemenceau (with contributions from Charmaine Quinn)
Last year I received an original painting by internationally acclaimed capuchin artist and philanthropist, Pockets Warhol, who is helping to raise awareness for Story Book Farm Sanctuary in Sunderland, Ontario. Story Book is currently running an urgent campaign to raise funds for a new location for 20 primates. Charmaine Quinn is also famous for being a muse to Pockets’, who is the subject of this Q&A. She works in Toronto and donates all her spare time to helping animals in need. Her weekends are spent at Story Book Farm as well as volunteering as an exhibit interpreter for the orangutans at the Toronto Zoo. Charmaine also volunteers at a therapeutic horse riding facility helping special needs children and adults.
Charmaine is the Board of Directors secretary for the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation led by Dr. Anne Russon (York University) and since 2006 has been spending two months a year at an Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Borneo helping orphaned and ex-captive orangutans in their Forest School System. Charmaine has been honoured with the title of Canadian Orangutan Ambassador by Orangutan Appeal UK. An extensive traveller, Charmaine also manages to give her time to Wildtracks in Belize, where she provides care for spider monkeys, howler monkeys, as well as manatees! When not volunteering, Charmaine is spending time with her rescued pets – two dogs and two cats, as well as playing classical flute, drawing and sculpting. So here’s 10 questions for Charmaine about her work with Pockets….
(Heather) How did Pockets come to arrive at the sanctuary and how long has he been painting? What other types of enrichment does he enjoy?
(Charmaine) Pockets arrived about 5 years ago as a former pet in B.C. and he has been happily painting abstract pieces of art for the past 3 years. I noticed a similarity between Andy Warhol and Pockets so I attached the Warhol name which launched him into becoming a viral sensation when people saw his magnificent pieces of work. Pockets enjoys his painting sessions which would be similar to a child doing painting. It comes from a pure heart and pure mind. Pockets loves playing with his dinosaurs, stuffed toys and play ball. He definitely has a sense of wonder about him.
(Heather) Pockets took to painting fairly easily, but this isn’t true of other monkeys you have at the sanctuary. To what do you attribute Pockets’ interest in painting, over some of the other primates?
(Charmaine) Pockets seemed to take to painting quite naturally as do some humans. Other primates in sanctuary settings also enjoy this as part of their enrichment. Pockets is a capuchin monkey and they are known for their high intelligence so it is no surprise to me that he is able to be very creative.
(Heather) Your relationship with Pockets seems especially close. Would he paint as well if I handed him a canvas and paints? Or does he prefer to work with you or some of the other caregivers?
(Charmaine) Pockets feels most comfortable with me during the painting process as we have formed a special friendship since he arrived and moreso after introducing him to the paints. Other caregivers have tried to paint with him, but they have not been very successful. He looks at our time together as fun and happy when he is painting as one can see in his work.
(Heather) You tried to interest another capuchin, Cheeko, in painting – how did that turn out? I guess the phrase “monkey see, monkey do” doesn’t necessarily apply here….
(Charmaine) I have offered paints to other monkeys but they seem to have no interest and prefer to focus on other types of enrichment, like puzzles, toys, mirrors, etc.
(Heather) My Pockets painting has little bits of straw or wood chips in it. The little finger and hand prints are so adorable. Does Pockets like to incorporate any other “found objects” in his painting?
(Charmaine) Pockets uses his hands and feet to move around the paint and often little bits of straw are incorporated in these paintings as they are part of his enclosure which create an interesting look to the paintings. Sometimes he uses his tongue as a brush or takes other objects in his enclosure to push around the paint.
(Charmaine) I do use children’s paints as it has to be safe for him because he sometimes does put this in his mouth as a child would do. At the end of the sessions, I use baby shampoo and warm water to clean his hands, feet and tail and face. Pockets seems to understand this process of cleaning up after the painting is complete.
(Heather) Sometimes capuchins are used as service monkeys in other countries. But they, along with other species of monkeys don’t make good pets. Most of the primates at Story Book are very high energy and Pockets is quite the little busybody – what other attributes do they have that make them very difficult pets?
(Charmaine) Primates share many human traits and people often feel they would make good companions, but they are wild and unpredictable by nature as well as extremely strong. The cruel exotic animal trade is rampant and fueled by humans and this never ends well for the primate of choice unless they are fortunate enough to end up in a sanctuary setting.
(Heather) How has your life been impacted by Pockets specifically? Aside from the fact that sometimes both your hairstyles resemble Andy Warhol…..
(Charmaine) Pockets has indirectly changed my life in the most positive manner and think he has brought much happiness to others as well with his artwork and his funny little character and I feel very flattered when people see that we share the same hairstyle! He is very special to me because he loves to have fun and he has a sense of humor. Pockets keeps me motivated to help continue my volunteer work abroad with orangutans and monkeys and protect their environment for future generations.
(Heather) Has Pockets’ fame gone to his head? How do you keep him grounded?
(Charmaine) Pockets is a little spoiled but he manages to keep himself grounded with a little help from me!
(Heather) Does Pockets have any upcoming exhibitions?
(Charmaine) I am hoping to continue more art shows and have been approached by Sadie’s Diner who were the original hosts of the first show. He has had a couple of art shows in Helsinki, one being at the Helsinki Museum, another at the Museo Apparente in Naples where he was part of an art show with other animals and many in Toronto. Pockets is listed as number 8 animal artist in the world and I am very proud of all his artwork which has created fundraising to help his primate friends at the sanctuary and has created many conversations about their intelligence and hopefully will make people think about protecting primates as they are very much like us in many ways, but are born to be wild.