Maker Stories

Artists Bring Relief to Gulf Wildlife

July 13, 2010
shore birds

Moved by the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Louisiana artist Thomas Mann and Florida artists Mike and Vawn Gray wanted to help bring awareness to local wildlife through their artwork.

Partnering with UncommonGoods, each artist has created a tribute to local shore birds. Ten percent of the proceeds from Thomas Mann’s pelican pins will go to support the National Wildlife Federation & The Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and ten percent of the proceeds from the Grays’ pelican and sandpiper night lights will benefit Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research.

Mike & Vawn Gray Shine a Light on Shore Bird Rescue

mike and vawn gray

For Mike and Vawn Gray, the inspiration for the pelican and sandpiper nightlight sprung from a moment of beauty followed by a chain of events. “We went to a beach off Sanibel Island for my birthday around Memorial Day,” says Vawn. “It’s a state park with very little parking, so it’s very wild, natural and untouched. We were fascinated with all the birds that were there and were taking lots of pictures. These birds were just so beautiful, and we realized how much we take them and our wildlife for granted.

“During this time, we had also been watching the spill on the news, and just felt horrible about it. We felt powerless. So I started learning more about shore bird rescue and how we could help. To volunteer you have to take a 40-hour class and most of the training is done on dead birds. I wanted to help, but I didn’t think I could handle that. Mike and I have always felt very strongly about environmental issues and have incorporated that into our night lights in the past, so we decided to use our craft to bring awareness to this issue.

“When we design a new night light, it’s usually really challenging, ” Vawn says. “You design it, then fire it in the kiln, then something usually doesn’t come right and you have to fix it. With these two night lights, on the first shot, we nailed it. We took that as a sign that we really needed to do this. So we called UncommonGoods to see if they would want to be a sponsor. And their enthusiasm was right there with ours.”

Thomas Mann: Love for Louisiana

thomas mann

For the artists at Thomas Mann’s New Orleans studio, the oil spill in the gulf isn’t just a news report on TV, it’s a tragedy happening in their own backyard. “We were constantly hearing the stories of the pelicans and how they were covered in oil, but we had not yet seen any pictures,” says Helen Redmann of Thomas Mann studios. “One day, I saw a  picture of a pelican that was completely covered in brown, gooey oil,  wings spread wide with only the eyes shining bright.  This was a defining  moment of the impact the oil spill was having on our treasured wildlife.  I passed the photo along to Tom.  When he saw that disturbing image, he knew he needed to create something beautiful that will remind people of the beauty, strength and resilience of these pelicans.”

Thomas and his team of skilled artisans have been working non-stop on these pins since their inception. “We stopped most other jewelry production to focus on the trememdous response to the pins,” Redmann says. “This project is incredibly personal to all of us.  The effects of this spill are so far-reaching we still do not know the long term effects it will have on our environment, culture, way of life not to mention the human toll it is taking. We are hopeful in our own small way, the contributions we will be making to NWF and CRCL will have a direct impact on wildlife preservation and coastal restoration that is so urgently needed in Louisiana.”

The Louisiana Brown Pelican, and the muse for Thomas’ pins, is the state bird of  Louisiana and for many years has been on the endangered species list.  They were just taken off that list last year. And it remains to be seen how the oil spill will affect this species.

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