ELKHART — Each of the 30 beautifully painted elk statues placed around Elkhart County has a special story behind it, and three more will be added this summer.
A trio of local artists are hard at work in Goshen, Middlebury and Wakarusa, where they’re painting new elk that will be auctioned off in June to benefit CAPS, a nonprofit group that works to build stronger families and prevent child abuse in Elkhart County.
‘I HEARD IT THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE’
Inspired by childhood memories at her grandfather’s vineyard in Michigan, Wakarusa artist Diane Overmyer painted her elk with green vines and leaves with clusters of grapes. The elk’s face will be realistic, based on photographs she snapped of elk in the wild during a hiking trip with her family in the Rocky Mountains several years ago.
“It’s like he has been standing in the vineyard so long that the vines started growing up around him,” Overmyer said about the elk dubbed “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.”
Overmyer loves spotting the CAPS elk statues throughout the county. Her favorite stands at Wellfield Botanic Gardens.
“I love the work that the artists did last time,” she said.
Overmyer usually paints still life pictures and landscapes but jumped at the chance to support CAPS through art.
“I’m just really passionate about family,” she said. “When they called me from CAPS, I knew I wanted to do this. They work with a lot of families here. In Elkhart County especially, people have had a hard time.”
Whitney Richmond, a dentist in Goshen, has worked on sculptures before but never anything of this scale.
“It’s a challenge, but I’ve been having fun with it the whole time,” she said.
Using a mixture of putty and epoxy, Richmond has sculpted embellishments onto her elk statue with details on the antlers and around the neck to resemble the lid of a German beer stein. She hasn’t settled on a name for her elk, but she’s leaning toward “Elktoberfest.”
“Actually, my grandfather collects beer steins, so he let me borrow one for inspiration,” she said. “I love how they have texture to them, and they’re great to look at. They’re neat from every angle, so I thought it would be kind of cool to incorporate that into the elk.”
CAPS holds a special place in Richmond’s heart.
“A long time ago, my parents were part of CAPS,” she recalled. “They did emergency foster parenting for kids, so I grew up with foster kids through CAPS.”
An elk statue being painted by art teacher Cari Patel has become a classroom mascot at Northridge Middle School in Middlebury.
Patel enlisted her students to help come up with a theme for the elk, which they have named “Jeremy.” Together, they wrote a list of things that make them happy, like candy, fireworks, parties and flowers. She will also incorporate a seasonal theme with scenes from spring, summer, fall and winter.
“The whole thing will be very whimsical and very dreamlike,” she said. “For spring, I was thinking of having a nice park scene, maybe with some balloons and a few rain clouds with umbrellas. Then the summer will be very bright and vibrant with lots of colors, and then the fall will have lots of leaves. For winter, I was thinking about painting kids sledding down the back leg of the elk.”
Patel has been painting her elk statue during breaks between classes and after school. She has also allowed her students to pitch in.
“It’s a total honor to be asked to do this because there are so many talented people in the community, and I think it’s a great way to get the students involved,” she said. “It gives them a better awareness of what CAPS does. Each one of them, whether they’re doing a significant amount of work on it or just making a little mark, they’ll be able to see this elk wherever it ends up, and we’ll be able to say that’s our elk. It will give them a sense of pride in their community.”
VINES AND STEINS
The three elk statues will be part of an auction on June 14 at CAPS’ annual Vines and Steins fundraiser at the RV Hall of Fame, 21565 Executive Parkway, Elkhart.
Tickets for the event are $100, which includes craft beer, wine and food. For ticket information call CAPS at 295-2277.