Ladysmith artist Sally Mann has always loved elephants.
She has been collecting elephants for the past 30-40 years and has amassed “quite the collection.” As an artist who paints and sculpts, Mann says she has always wanted to build a large elephant sculpture, and she decided that this was the year she would do it. She’s done it, and she’s done it in a most unique way.
“I wasn’t sure what I was going to come up with,” she said. “There was all this talk of pennies going out of circulation, and I had quite a collection of pennies myself — about $4 worth — and I just thought ‘wouldn’t it be awesome to completely cover an elephant with pennies?’ The different ages of them, the different qualities of the colour … so I built it. I’m very proud of it.”
Mann began building her elephant sculpture, which she calls Nelly after an old British song from 1956 about Nelly the Elephant, Aug. 18, and she completed it Sept. 18 after working eight hours a day on it every day except four days off during the Labour Day long weekend.
Mann already had a large collection of pennies, and then she bought 1,500 pennies from the bank, and her neighbours gave her a lot of their pennies. She figures there are probably 2,000 to 2,5000 pennies on the elephant.
The sculpture, which is about five feet high, is made of styrofoam, chicken wire, papier mâché, a couple of coats of a material Mann has made up, primer, paint and then the pennies.
“It’s not as heavy as it looks,” said Mann. “I intentionally kept it lightweight; otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to move it.”
Mann says she had many frustrating moments while building the sculpture, such as trying to build the ears, but, overall, she achieved what she set out to do.
“We had a few damp days at a time when I really needed for the papier mâché to dry, so that put me behind for a little bit, having to wait,” she said. “It’s been a process, but it’s been great — a great problem-solving process.”
Mann has named her sculpture “Gone But Not Forgotten.”
Mann has always been drawn to elephants’ nature.
“Like a lot of people, my heart goes out to them,” she said. “They’re such huge, gentle creatures. They’re so badly treated in parts of the world, hunted for their ivory. It’s so sad. They don’t have a great many means to defend themselves. They’re beautiful, sculptural, especially when you get a group of them together. They’re a lot like a Henry Moore sculpture. And the babies are so cute.”
Mann has been an artist for “60 years or more” since she was very small.
“I’ve always liked drawing, and I’ve always liked making things with found objects and wire and wax, and taking things other people have thrown out and making new stuff out of it. If I can take something that would have been thrown out and I can make it a piece of artwork, it makes me so happy.”
Mann says when she thought of the pennies going out of circulation, it felt like the end of an era.
“I’ve had such fun with the pennies,” she said. “I stuck them on and looked at the date, and they reminded me of my life. Some were from before I was born; some were from when my kids were born. It was a trip down memory lane.”
Mann says one day, she is going to learn some basic welding and build a full-scale elephant out of scraps of metal.
“I would love to do that,” she said.
Mann’s elephant has been accepted into the Multi Media Show at the Ladysmith Waterfront Art Gallery. If she sells it through the show, part of the proceeds will go to the gallery’s fundraising efforts to build a lift.
Mann made headlines last September when she created a mermaid Pamela Anderson sculpture out of recycled materials.