Kelley’s meeting with the elephants of Thailand was propitious. An early large painting in the series depicted a migration of elephants journeying across a vast painterly space seeking refuge. In a powerful dream she was a witness to a family of elephants playing in a pristine river. They were wild with joy. When in 2004 she was invited to a refuge for elephants in Northern Thailand by her colleague, electric cello player Jami Sieber, she walked into the scene of her dream.
Spending days in the presence of the elephants, mahouts (their keepers), and the workers protecting them had a profound impact on Kelley and her artistic and poetic vocabulary movingly communicates the significance of this species in the grand story of Earth. Suffused with subtle light, the paintings in the series embody visionary, symbolic impressions and are imbued with ineffable feelings of both sorrow and joy.
The Elephants Leave My Tea Party
At dusk, a curtain of rain hovers here.
Dark cloud breasts hang heavy
over this parched land.
They have gone home
leaving fresh pungent
dung for the garden.
Soft silhouettes cross over
Tititia Peak, disappear in the
rosy glow of Western mesas.
Ears lifted as light vanishes
into the felt of night.
To have more information about the elephants,
and to hear an interview with music and poetry, go to
Interview with Rhea Goodman and Colleen Kelley with music by Jami Sieber.