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Bids for the bears

Longtime supporters Kathy and Larry Schiller from Los Angeles have been superbly generous to the bears – and have surpassed themselves in their latest philanthropic gesture by selling one of their finest Chinese works of art to benefit our work. The auction at Christies in Hong Kong on Saturday 29th May saw the finest example from Zeng Fanzhi’s notorious “Mask” series going under the hammer for a princely sum, and Animals Asia receiving a phenomenal US$100,000 from the proceeds of the sale as a result.

Kathy had heard about the plight of the bears several years ago during a trip to China and made contact asking how she and her husband Larry could help. One thing led to another and, before long, Alice, our US Director, Morgan our US PR and Communications Manager, and I were joining Kathy and Larry at their beautiful house in LA at a fundraising dinner towards the end of last year. Soon after, they generously offered to sell some of their art to benefit the bears. In Larry's words:

“In everyone’s life, there comes a time when one must give back to society to protect the environment but for all the peoples of our earth. Animals Asia, one of the leading non-profit organisations in Asia, is working to educate and advocate kind treatment and respect towards all species of animals. In protecting moon bears, dogs and cats from cruelty, Animals Asia is protecting our civilisation and environment in the 21st century.

Since 2002, my wife Kathy observed the work Jill Robinson’s Animals Asia has been doing in building sanctuaries to give a home to the hundreds of moon bears that cannot be returned to the wild. Last year during a visit to Hong Kong, we decided to auction some of the art we have collected over the years for the sole purpose of giving financial support to her work. This year’s contribution of US$100,000 is the first of several donations we will make in support of the work being done by Animals Asia.”

These two amazing people have a history rich in the arts. Kathy has been a highly acclaimed Hollywood studio photographer for over 30 years, working with the likes of Steven Spielberg, John Lennon and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Larry is an Emmy-winning motion picture and television producer and director who has worked with Richard Nixon, Marilyn Monroe, Muhammad Ali and the famed forensic scientist Dr Henry Lee.

They both came in close contact with the Chinese art world during their trips to China with Dr Lee and began to build a collection to suit their home, focusing on what they perceived as the major cross-currents underpinning the nascent movement. The highlight of their collection is, of course, Zeng Fanzhi’s “Mask” painted in 2000.

Just before the auction at Christie’s, we were joined by Harriet Tung who came to admire the painting. In fact, just the evening before, Harriet and her husband CC had kindly invited the Schillers, Alice and I to dinner, where she kindly made a donation to Animals Asia and “her” bear, Dong Fong Hai Wai. So now, in return at the Christie's event, Harriet joined me in accepting Kathy and Larry’s very generous cheque to Animals Asia.

The event at Christie's was amazing – I barely took a breath as the price for their work of art climbed higher and higher – heads around the room nodding or shaking as the bidding grew tense. The hammer came down, Larry and Kathy seemed pleased, and if the bears could smile I think they would have at that point.

Promoting the whole event outside of our own Juanita and Hong Kong Marketing team was Drew, Bruce and all at Grayling who so kindly helped with the media and PR – entirely pro bono so that every cent went to the bears. They were spectacular throughout and saw stories in Bloomberg and the South China Morning Post, among others. Thank you all so much for your professionalism and generosity – and Drew it was a pleasure to see you on site with the bears at last!

The final surprise was that Kathy also accepted our invitation to visit the bears in Chengdu, to see for herself how the proceeds of the art sale would be spent. In addition to her other skills, Kathy is a practicing Buddhist and for the third time in as many weeks, our bears were the recipients of soothing chants which would wrap them in light and positive energy in their lives ahead.

In fact, we had a surprise up our sleeve for Kathy too as she stood watching the surgery to remove the gall bladder from newly rescued bear Monkey – and Monkey became her and Larry’s bear. Her face was a picture as she stroked a sleeping Monkey’s paws and admired her bear’s truly spectacular ears.

Kathy, the whole team absolutely loved having you on site – please come back soon – and to you both, our dear, dear friends and champions of the bears, a huge and heartfelt thank you for the peace and happiness, and future without fear, Monkey and friends have now….

Other friends on site at this time were Drew (mentioned above), Barry Yeoman award-winning journalist from the USA, and Julie Kay from Marin County who had flown over with Alice to see firsthand what she had learned during last year’s US Roadshow. Friends with our veterinarian, Monica Bando, Julie came to hear about the long road to recovery our bears faced after surgery and to see those who made it, now enjoying their days in the sun. A busy week, but a very happy one – and some very lucky bears now have more lifelong champions to help them and the bears they left behind on the farms.

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