Parrot painters set to earn their keep

Coombs’ World Parrot Refuge plan getting interest from around the world

Pepsi is given encouragement and inspiration for her artistic creation by Wendy Huntbatch (right) and assistant Aimee Pope.

Pepsi is given encouragement and inspiration for her artistic creation by Wendy Huntbatch (right) and assistant Aimee Pope.

Wendy Huntbatch simply didn’t know what to do. Her World Parrot Refuge in Coombs was pretty much surviving on lint and there didn’t seem to be any light on the financial horizon.

However, that was before Fang, Pepsi and a flock of fellow cockatoos took her under their wings and got together to lend a helping claw.

The parrots, she said, have begun expressing their creative side, with the resultant paintings put on sale to raise funds for the cash-strapped facility.

“We were desperate for money,” Huntbatch, the owner of the refuge, said. “We really didn’t know what to do.”

However, last Tuesday, inspiration struck either Huntbatch or the birds, depending on which tale you want to believe.

“I was chatting with a friend, who asked me what I was going to do,” she said. “I said, I don’t know, teach the parrots to paint or something. They teach elephants to paint, right?”

Huntbatch prefers a more magical version of events.

“This guy from A Channel asked where I came up with the idea and I said it was the parrots,” she said. “There’s a group of cockatoos that gather every morning and it’s like a union meeting. They talk about all sorts of things. I was crying, really upset and one of the parrots came to lick the tears off my face, which they will do, and I told them we had no money and I had no idea what we were gong to do and the next morning I heard them talking  about getting into selling art.”

Regardless of how the inspiration occurred, it clearly struck a chord, certainly with the birds.

“They have a blast,” Huntbatch said. “It’s something different and fun. We’re always laughing and singing while they do it and they’re just like little kids.”

Unlike many artists, the parrots, mainly cockatoos, don’t go for long, moody walks along the beach to get their inspiration.

“We give them one piece of canvass and finger paints and we dip a brush and give it to them,” Huntbatch said. “They throw it down or jump up and down on it or throw it at us. They also walk through the paint and onto the canvass. One way or another, the paint gets on the canvass.”

Interest in the program has been flooding in — as have the orders for the art.

“The first painting we sold was to a person in Australia,” Huntbatch said. “I don’t know how they heard about us over there.”

Other pieces have been sold as far away as Calgary, while others have gone to Chemainus and the Vancouver Island University campus in Nanaimo.

The paintings, each one unique, sell for $75 and, she added, make a perfect gift for someone who has everything.

“I had one lady who was buying something for a very wealthy friend in Arizona who has everything,” Huntbatch said. “Christmas was always a real problem for her, because she had no idea what to buy. Now she’s sure she has something that nobody else has.”

Huntbatch said she has noticed the female cockatoos appear to have the most talent for applying paint to canvass, but that isn’t necessarily always the case.

“The females seem to have a better aptitude for it than the males, but Fang did one and it’s already sold.”

With sales of the artwork picking up steam so quickly, Huntbatch is hoping she will be able to dry her eyes for good.

“We’re selling them both online and here at the refuge,” she said. “It’s going amazingly well.”

When asked to comment on the avian masterpiece it was working on Saturday, Pepsi a female cockatoo, was succinct.

“Hello!” she said.