Local Artist Puts Spotlight on Red River Zoo Animals in New Exhibit

Some of the portraits will be made into a book exclusively sold at the zoo


MOORHEAD, Minn. — An artist from Hawley is turning animals at the Red River Zoo into local celebrities.

In 2015, Mark Elton wanted to do something special for his nephew before he was born.

So he created an animal alphabet book.

“Those pieces came across the desk of the right people which then invited me to come have a show at the Rourke, so that was Menagerie I,” Elton said.

Now Menagerie II has come to life at the Rourke Art Museum in Moorhead, featuring portraits of 20 every day and exotic animals and 20 more from the Red River Zoo.

“Animals are utterly fascinating. We don’t give them enough credit when it comes to personalities or the way they act or the way they interact with their habitat,” Elton said. “I wanted to explore that humanity which can be found in nature and really ask what makes us different from them?”

His animals aren’t all like you’d picture.

“Many of the animals here may feel unfamiliar or may even feel imaginary to some people but I promise you they are 100 percent real,” Elton said.

“Some of them really do look kind of wild. I like seeing the smiles on these animals. It’s a nice twist to it instead of the standard. It adds an element of fun to it,” said Ryan Keel.

Elton created the images through digital painting, some of them only taking four hours whereas others took up to 40 hours.

Many of the portraits featuring local animals will become part of a book exclusively found at the Red River Zoo.

“To have an artist come here and really represent our collection, it’s been really awesome. People experience a zoo and experience our mission in different ways and so finding new ways to reach new audiences is really, really awesome,” said Jeremiah Gard, with the Red River Zoo.

Whether viewers capture the animals through the lens of the exhibit or in the book, the goal is to leave them with a touch of curiosity.

“A greater sense of wonder, a desire to go out and explore the world around them to greater detail because I feel curiosity is something we are born with, not something that’s assigned to us,” Elton said.

At the very least, you can expect it to turn your day around.

“It put me in a good mood,” Keel said. “The stuff that I had seen at the zoo and you can kind of match it up to where you were at to when you were out there.”

Because even animals at the zoo deserve to have their own 15 minutes of fame every once in a while.

Menagerie II will be open through August 19 and admission is free.

Elton will also be putting some of the artwork into another book called “Curious Critters”, which will be available next year.

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