Leap and the Bridge will Appear- The Genesis of Arte for Elephants


Painting elephants at our booth!

“How did you get into this?”

This is the most frequent question visitors to our art booth ask of us. It seems everyone wants to know. I have my own theories about why people are so intrigued with our story. Maybe the idea of devoting your lives to such a narrow focus (captive elephant well being) fascinates people or perhaps our visitors nurture a secret desire to pursue their dreams in their hearts and want to know how and why we were able to “take the plunge”, quit our day jobs and devote our lives to our passions.

Arte for Elephants would never have existed without two very important women, neither of whom I have ever met, Betsie Norris and Maureen Olsen.

Betsie is an amazing adoption activist in Ohio and Maureen was my birth mother.

I am a foster child. I was given up at birth by a woman named Maureen and adopted by two people who clearly loved me, but with whom I had hardly anything in common. Neither my adopted mother or father was what you would describe as “artistic”, They loved theater but were more at home on the technical side of the stage. From a very young age I was feverishly driven to create. I made little books out of Sunday comic strips, wrote reviews of movies and drew pictures to illustrate them, and in a pastime guaranteed to send my adopted mother into fits of rage, I routinely “borrowed” household items to create imaginative sculptures and dioramas. My suffering adoptive parents had no idea how to handle this behavior and let me know in no uncertain terms that art was NOT a viable career.

I can’t speak to how other adoptees feel about their unique attributes, but I always felt that the artistic feelings that are deeply imbedded in me were something to be fought; they weren’t normal or practical, they weren’t even good.

Fast forward to 2015. A painful divorce and years of soul killing, corporate ladder climbing behind me, and I heard about this amazing activist (Betsie Norris) in Ohio, (where I was born), who was on the brink of opening the adoption records for tens of thousands of people born between 1964 and 1996, whose birth certificates were sealed by the state.

My biological mother and I

Opening my original birth certificate was the most heart stopping, surreal experience. I tore away the envelope, and there in black and white was the name of the person who had given me life, Maureen Virginia Olsen. I fell on the floor sobbing. With the help of a superhuman Search Angel (someone who volunteers their time looking up records to help reunite adoptees and birth families), within 10 hours of reading that name I learned that my birth mother had passed away but there were half siblings and they wanted to meet.

This isn’t enough space here to cover the emotional rollercoaster that ensued with this reconnection. Ultimately what emerged is that my birth mother Maureen was not only an amazing woman, but