13 March 2014, 10:39AM
Gstaad is home to one of the largest ski areas in the Alps - and it is also one of the most beautiful villages in Switzerland, if not the world. Just recently it was an absolute privilege to be there with the Founder of Switzerland's premier animal welfare group, Animal Trust, Katharina Büttiker, her family and her team. See the wonderful Katharina below (centre), with husband Gero, son Max and Animal Trust's Beatrice Baumgartner.
For over eight years Katharina has been so generously championing the bears from Europe - whether in press conferences or events. This year, she surpassed everything when she and her Galery "Galerie Katharina Büttiker" so generously put together an incredible selection of pieces by the famous Czech artist Alfons Mucha (1860-1939) - and auctioned them for the bears and for the animals of her foundation at Animal Trust.
According to the auction programme, Mucha shaped the graphic of Art Nouveau like no other with his artistic language of arabesques and large, stark floral shapes. His fame was somewhat carried by luck after he heard from his printer that Sarah Bernhardt, the extraordinary turn-of-the-century actress, had lost her designer for a poster. Mucha offered his services and his style was so successful that art lovers began stealing it from the posters. And so a star was born.
The event was held at the most beautiful Gstaad Yacht Club, supported by Christie's of Switzerland, whose European Managing Director, Professor Dr. Dirk Boll (below), so kindly took the role of "pro-bono" auctioneer. The invitation from Credit Suisse to their customers placed the final seal on the importance of this exclusive event, and so a wonderful evening was had by all.
Katharina, Gero and Max could not have been kinder or more generous throughout a rather whirlwind weekend. Aided by tireless assistants Beatrice and Rudi, they gave the bears a voice in Switzerland that, according to so many guests on the night, had never been heard before. Philipp Janson, Managing Director of Credit Suisse Gstaad, gave the warm welcome to start the evening, followed by Katharina who spoke movingly about the work of Animal Trust and the projects they help across the world. The audience was silent as she recounted a particularly profound project detailing their work with Peace Parks in Africa, that care for orphaned rhinos whose mothers have been killed for the despicable trade in their horn.
She then spoke about the bear bile trade that exists in China and Vietnam - a region exploiting both bears and rhinos - emphasising how cruel and unnecessary it was. Speaking to such an esteemed audience, Katharina gave a practical account of how the connection between bank, auction and fauna came about, and how animal welfare must be considered seriously alongside art and culture as an issue to be addressed and encompassed by society at large.
I was invited to speak to the audience, many of whom had never heard of bear bile farming before, about the reality of the industry. At the end of a 25 minute presentation, the final slides of Katharina's bear, Fritz, moved her to tears that touched the audience deeply, and saw a few seconds of composure before the proceedings moved on. The auction that followed, so deftly overseen by Professor Dr. Boll, was breathtaking in both the artistic beauty of Mucha's pieces, and edge-of-seat suspense as the bidding went on.
As the evening closed, and the snow gently fell outside, it was clear that both Animal Trust and Animals Asia had benefited superbly from the event and from Katharina's great generosity and kindness.
Katharina, we do so hope that you and your family will come over to Vietnam and meet Fritz, or to China to meet the bears there. This is a special year ahead for them all, and for those to come, and we would love to host you there and introduce you to the recipients of your very kind philanthropy during all these years.
Thank you again from us all.
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