Meet the life size animal art that’s taken over our towns and cities

Fittingly, her latest subject not only carries home around on its back, it is her canvas. She is one of 50 artists who have contributed to a charity trail across the Channel Island of Jersey.

Each has been given a life-size fibreglass model of a Galapagos tortoise and been asked to decorate it in their own unique way. The brightly-coloured tortoises are sited in strategic locations around the island where they will remain until next month when they will be rounded up and, along with 65 smaller tortoises painted by schoolchildren, auctioned off for charity.

It is the latest event run by British firm Wild In Art, which has cornered the charity fund-raising market in life-size, gaily-decorated fibreglass animals.

Its creations have graced cities and towns across the country over the past 15 years – with displays of bears in Leeds, elephants in Southend, balloon dogs in Swindon and Shaun the Sheep in Newcastle and Brighton joining the jersey tortoises to celebrate its anniversary.

It is a concept it has successfully exported round the world – raising a staggering £27million in total for good causes.

Wild In Art started with elephants but has since let loose herds of bears, whales, penguins, bees, snails, tyrannosaurus rexes, hares, penguins, ducks, owls, cows, rhinos, dolphins and giraffes. There were very few animals on Noah’s Ark that Wild In Art hasn’t transformed.

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Lisa’s tortoise is painted with houses surrounded by blue seas with the tortoise’s shell forming an island that could almost be Jersey but she insists isn’t.

It is sponsored by the Sanctuary Trust, a local charity which provides accommodation for the homeless on an island where social housing is in short supply and rents are high.

She spent six weeks painting the tortoise in a giant former potato packing shed in the centre of the island, explaining: “It was a totally joyous experience, I loved it. As artists we are by nature solitary animals so it was great to share the space with so many others.”

Jersey Zoo founded by the late author and zoologist Gerald Durrell has been working with giant tortoises since its inception. Chelonians, which include tortoises, turtles and terrapins, are the most threatened vertebrates on the planet. The zoo which specialises in rescuing endangered species has Galapagos tortoises, Aldabra giant tortoises from Mauritius and golden-domed ploughshare tortoises from Madagascar.

Wild In Art abides by a strict protocol: all its artists are paid.

Lisa’s £1,000 fee was paid by a local couple, Debbie and Richard Prosser, who wanted to raise the profile of the Sanctuary Trust. Plucked from her gallery in St Helier’s Victorian Central Market, she was one of dozens of local artists who benefited from the invitation to contribute.

Jersey is just eight miles by five and has a population of little more than 100,000 with tens of thousands of visitors descending on the island in summer.

Last time the island hosted a Wild In Art fund raiser it made more than £1,146,500 towards the £5million cost of a new gorilla house at Jersey Zoo. One gorilla sold for £72,000 – the most anyone has paid for any of WIA’s animals. The zoo is hoping to match the previous total in order to refurbish the Reptile and Amphibian House where the giant tortoises reside.

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Wild In Art’s fibreglass animals are painted in every style it’s possible to imagine and some it isn’t.

Jersey artist Lucy Griffiths’ painted hers with thermo-sensitive paint that changes colour according to the temperature.

That means visitors can decorate the tortoise themselves simply by putting their hands on its shell.

Each year since 2008, Wild In Art has chosen a handful of charities or good causes to run the events. Partners choose the locations and the artists using the benefit of WIA’s expertise and experience. It keeps overheads and administration to a minimum.

Charlie Langhorne, who founded the company with Sally Ann Wilkinson in 2008, explains: “Paying the artists is a red line for us. If someone says they are going to ask the artists to do it for nothing we won’t take the project forward.

“For a lot of artists it’s their first commission. For an up-and-coming-artist to be able to say they’ve been commissioned to do a piece of work is a big tick on their CV.”

Mr Langhorne, 57, was once a member of Britain’s Winter Olympics team competing in the skeleton, which involves hurtling headfirst down an icy track at breakneck speeds on something akin to a tin tray. Having survived that and a stint in the Army he went into fund-raising for a number of prestigious sports clubs.

It was the simplicity of the business model behind Wild In Art that immediately appealed.

He says: “It’s a really simple concept and I’m a simple man. It’s not complicated and it benefits everyone – a trail brings benefits in terms of the economic impact, the increase in footfall, that journey of discovery as people are going round their hometown or, in the case of Jersey, their island. It just works.”

Wild In Art’s headquarters are in the Peak District. Charlie lives in Brighton and spends a lot of time in his car commuting the 227 miles door to door. He also spends a lot of time in the air, as Wild In Art now supervises fund-raisers worldwide currently including Sydney, New Zealand, South Africa, Brazil, Cape Town, Nairobi among others. The fundraising season has grown since the first trail was set up.

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He says: “Brighton, for example, is rammed in the summer and doesn’t need more visitors but welcomes an increase in numbers in the off-season period.

“We know people go to see the trails, but I also like to think it helps people rediscover their home locations. I’d never been to the Brighton Pavilion until we did the trail because I knew I could always go another day. The trails encourage you to be a tourist in your own town.”

The beneficiary organisation deals with the logistics, Wild In Art looks after the rest.

“First and foremost we are a public art company and I always say to our partners you’re not embarking on a fundraising exercise you are putting on a fantastic public art trail, if we get that bit right everything else will flow.”

The trails don’t just benefit Wild In Art, which takes a 20 per cent cut of the auction sales and the beneficiaries; they also have a knock on effect on public health. Charlie adds: “When we did one in Scotland we found the average distance walked around the trail was 11 miles which is a huge distance. The cumulative benefit is extraordinary.

“It sounds really cheesy, but the basis of what I hope is a successful trail is making someone smile. You walk round a corner, you bump into one of the tortoises, you bump into an elephant, and you smile. It’s on the back of that that everything else happens.

“With the cost of living crisis one of the great things about the trails is they are free. You can go as a family and have a free day out. You can do that three, four, five six times over the course of the trail.

“If you take the kids to Chessington or Thorpe Park you don’t get much change from a couple of hundred quid. Here’s a free day out in the fresh air.”

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