Watts good for monkeys

Minot artist Donna Watts was enthused with her latest project, the painting of the interior of a tamarin display in the lobby of the new zoo building at Roosevelt Park. It will be the first attraction visitors to the zoo will see when entering the new building.

“I did think about that when I was doing all this,” said Watts. “It made me nervous. I tried to make it appealing and still put fun things in there for the kids to see, like on the ceiling. It continues the pattern.”

Watts had painted the murals inside the zoo’s Education Center 25 years earlier. That facility was ruined by several feet of flood water in 2011. While future plans for the damaged Education Center have not yet been finalized, the new zoo building is well on its way to receiving the public. It was under construction when the flood hit, delaying its opening for more than a year. A grand opening is now scheduled for May 4.

“This is a new building and this is the exhibit that we actually chose to paint,” said Watts, while peering inside the back door of the still unoccupied tamarin display. “It is one of the few that will get painted because the modern theory is to have the focus on the animal and not so much on the stuff around it.”

Not painting a detailed scene was an adjustment for Watts, but one she readily made. She considers herself a photo-realist.

“It’s really hard for me not to put every vein in every leaf,” laughed Watts. “The air brush is a softer look. We wanted to make sure we had a feeling of depth.”

Watts’ work involved several layers of detail with the air brush, a technique necessary to obtain the look of depth that Watts was seeking. Special paints were needed too because the interior of the display is lined with compressed plastic panels. The panels do not accept common paints. Watts solved the problem by contacting her paint supplier and received a recommendation as to what paints would be best for the job.

“They can’t give off any harmful vapors. They had to stick on plastic. Animals had to be able to chew on it, so it had to be edible,” said Watt. “After that it was layer after layer to get the depth.”

Tamarins are small monkeys, about the size of a squirrel. Two are expected to be placed in the new display painted by Watts. The zoo staff also constructed an artificial tree as part of the display. A hole in the tree leads to a covered box where the tamarins are expected to frequent when they wish to sleep or relax.

“I think they’ll like it, particularly the little tree and nest box,” said Watts. “That’s really going to make it for them.”

Watts estimates it took her about 50 hours to complete the painting inside the tamarin display. She has another project ahead of her, too, the painting of four golf carts that the zoo is receiving from the Souris Valley Golf Course. Plain white just won’t do.

“We decided the really cool thing to do, to make them stand out from others, would be to paint them in patterns of some of our animals,” said Watts. “We’ll do a cart in a giraffe pattern, a snow leopard pattern and a tiger pattern. We’re still kicking around ideas for the other one. They’ll look like real safari numbers.”

Watts said she was pleased to be able to offer her help to the zoo as it continues to recover from the 2011 flood. No doubt visitors, and tamarins, will be pleased when they see her work, too.