Adventures: Painted seats support tall tales at Critter Care

You’ve heard of bats in the belfry, but have you heard the one about the artist/accountant with a bathroom full of otters?

A raccoon duo at Critter Care Wildlife Society.

LANGLEY, B.C.: You’ve heard of bats in the belfry, but have you heard the one about the artist/accountant with a bathroom full of otters? That would be Bob McMurray, past president and Honourary Life Member of the Federation of Canadian Artists. It’s also why Bob, plus other renowned B.C. artists, donated signed, one-of-a-kind, hand-painted Muskoka Chairs for Critters in the Garden Art Fundraiser Silent Auction to benefit Critter Care Wildlife Society.

The society provides short and long term care to native mammal species and, through rehabilitation and public education, helps prevent suffering of injured and orphaned wildlife.

Laurie, Bob’s wife, joined CCWS in 2004. Soon she conscripted Bob. Before he knew it, not only had the society’s playful orphaned otters captured her heart, but six of them had taken up temporary residence in the McMurray second floor bathroom. It was only one of many times they would play foster parents to the sparkly-eyed little critters.

After cuddling a silky-soft baby raccoon during this story interview, I understood why Laurie’s heart was captured by a CCWS infant. However, unlike Laurie I resisted the urge to bring him (her?) home.

Haida chairOn my tour of the CCWS property at 481, 216th Street, I peeked into enclosures securely housing curious baby bears scampering around their temporary home, shy, delicate Black Tailed deer, and gleaming otter offspring chilling in their man-made pools. Nature’s lively, colourful babies are tough to resist.

Run by a volunteer board, Executive Director Gail Martin, and three full-time animal care supervisors, the facility attracts interns from around the world who work for room and board only.

Cleanliness is critical to avoid cross contamination and spreading diseases. On our tour, society vice president, John Wilcock, showed me the immaculate kitchens – one for people, one for animals, and the well-kept grounds.

[At right: John Wilcock, vice president of CCWS, with artist Bob McMurray and his Haida inspired Muskoka chair. – Ursula Maxwell-Lewis photo]

Being on a well, water is a constant challenge, so extra supplies are trucked in and stored in special tanks.

Donations of disinfectants and cleaning supplies are always welcome, as are baby receiving blankets, electrical wire, and tools to assist with ongoing repairs. On a larger scale, the wish list includes more enclosures for bears. The few available grants help, and sponsor donations, or bequests, are gratefully accepted.

That brings me back to the fund-raising painted chairs.

Admiring “SGang Gwaay Sights”,  the name of Bob McMurray’s donated painted Muskoka Chair, I note the Haida inspired theme. He explains: “The subject matter, mainly the poles, came from SGang Gwaay, Haida Gwaii. In 2000, I had the good fortune to tour the southern part of Haida Gwaii for 10 days with eight other artists on the Jennifer Gayle, a 62-foot converted seiner. Willis ‘Bozie’ Crosby, the owner-operator, is a Haida and we were welcomed at all of the historic village sites where we were invited ashore to paint and photograph at these Baby otterincredible locations.”

Bob estimates the true value of his chair to be about $1,600. Sanding, careful layers of paints, tackling the challenge of painting totems on backrest spars (as per original works on canvas), and weeks of drying, culminated in layering applications of Outdoor Satin Varathane to protect and preserve the final one-of-a-kind product. The winning bidder will receive instructions about chair care, and the background to Bob’s unique Haida experience.

[Right, a baby otter checks out visitors. – Ursula Maxwell-Lewis photo.]

Critters in the Garden is on Facebook. Bids can be made through www.32auctions.com/crittersinthegarden. Online biding closes at 11 p.m. Aug. 17. For other information, or internship applications, call 604-530-2064.

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