Painting elephants: Brush strokes of change

Dutton at an elephant sanctuary in Laos in 2008.

Clara Dutton visited her first elephant sanctuary while traveling in Laos with her father in 2008. Dutton, a recent Baylor graduate with a bachelor’s degree in painting, was traveling with her father, a photographer, when she visited an elephant sanctuary while on a tour. The sanctuary, an environment designed for elephants that have lost their natural habitats, is where her passion for elephants was ignited.

A photographer herself, Dutton spent hours at the sanctuary watching the elephants and taking pictures. “I did a lot of photography myself and at first I just thought they were really beautiful creatures. There was this one mother and baby elephant that were there, and so I just spent an hour watching them and taking pictures of them,” Dutton said. After returning to Baylor, Dutton used her own photographs as inspiration for her painted artwork.

However, once she exhausted the images, Dutton began further researching different elephant species around the world. It was through this research that she learned of illegal ivory hunting and trading issues facing African elephants.

Dutton was shocked and dismayed to find that poachers literally saw off elephants’ trunks in order to extract as much tusk as possible. This cruel and hardened act is what inspired her most notable piece, “The Harvest” which she completed in only two and a half months.

Both graphic and moving, the triptych shows the murderous effects of poaching by focusing on a faceless, bleeding elephant with tusks painted on each side panel. Even at first glance, the painting sends a strong, raw message against the act.

Her work was first displayed in the Hooper-Schaefer Fine Arts Center, where she caught the eye of Baylor’s media department. Terry Goodrich, Assistant Director of Media Communications, wrote an article on Dutton’s art that soon garnered national media attention.

Dutton describes the attention as “very odd.”

“It’s kind of weird because I wasn’t trying to get attention. It just started with an assignment and I was doing my own thing, and out of the blue I was contacted. It was unexpected.”

Dutton was also featured as a guest columnist with The Washington Post and has been interviewed by CNN for its ethics blog as well as by other media outlets.

– Jade and Carmen

Who is Baylor Nation? is a blog by staff writers Jade Mardirosian and Carmen Galvan.
The blog tells the life stories of the interesting people that comprise the Baylor Nation.
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