World Animal Day – The Art of Nichola Theakston

by Louise Irvine

World Animal Day on October 4th is a day of action to improve animal welfare worldwide. At WMODA, we are focused on the plight of primates and applauding British wildlife sculptor, Nichola Theakston, as well as Endangered: Art4Apes, which supports the Center for Great Apes in Florida.

World Animal Day was first celebrated in 1925 on the feast day of Saint Francis of Assisi, who is revered for his patronage of animals and the natural environment. Today, many conservation groups take this opportunity to create more global awareness for animal rights and survival. Nichola Theakston, who is represented at WMODA, is very concerned with the fragility of existence and is a keen supporter of David Shepherd’s Wildlife Foundation. She shows her work at their annual Wildlife Artist of the Year exhibition in London and has sold her sculptures in bronze and ceramic to raise funds for endangered animals.

Nichola specializes in life-size sculptural portraits of primates. which she finds interesting and compelling because of their genetic proximity to humans. In her words, “the notion that a creature may experience some spiritual dimension beyond its animal behavior is the premise behind much of my work, and portraiture is often the vehicle I use to explore feeling and expression. It is important to me that they are sculpted with sensitivity and empathy inviting the viewer to relate and reflect.”

Working with terracotta paper clay, Nichola hand-builds her sculptures using the earthy warmth of the material to create a colorful painterly finish. She likes to work in a series, which evolves over time as she experiments and develops a deeper understanding of her subject. Her work is often vulnerable during construction and she believes this fragility is integral to her concept and aesthetic.

Nichola’s studies of Lowland Gorillas, our fellow primates, help create awareness of their vulnerability in today’s world. According to Jane Goodall’s conservation campaign, more than half of the world’s primates are nearing extinction, impacted by deforestation, illegal trafficking, and hunting for the bushmeat and pet trades. Years of civil unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo have also taken their toll on the status of the eastern lowland gorilla and the mountain gorilla.

As well as apes, Nichola has portrayed different species of monkeys. WMODA has a fine example of a Langur monkey, which is native to India and is considered sacred in the Hindu religion. Despite their protected status, Langur monkeys are often persecuted for raiding crops and stealing food in rural villages areas.

Nichola’s Japanese Macaque with Infant is a sensitive study of maternal love. Natives of Japan, they are known as Snow Monkeys because they live where snow covers the ground for months of the year. Japanese macaques are an intelligent species and have some interesting behaviors. They have been seen rolling snowballs for fun and bathing together in hot springs. They have also been observed washing their food before eating. The “three wise monkeys” of the proverb carved in the shrine at Nikko are Japanese macaques and warn people to "see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil". Because of their intelligence, Macaque monkeys have been involved in many studies concerning neuroscience and drug testing.

One of Nichola’s recent commissions was the designing and making of trophies for the Lush Prize presented by Lush Cosmetics, which supports global initiatives to end or replace animal testing. The trophy features Nichola’s iconic sculpture of a boxing hare, which she observes in her rural North Lincolnshire home.

Closer to home in Florida, the Center for Great Apes is a nonprofit organization with a mission to provide a permanent sanctuary for orangutans and chimpanzees who have been rescued from research, retired from the entertainment industry, or who are no longer wanted as pets. They receive support from Endangered: Art4Apes, a team of art and photography lovers who believe that art can reach people all over the globe and win hearts and minds for the cause of preserving the environment. To this end, they organize exhibitions, contests, and other events to focus attention on all that is endangered in our world. Artists and photographers ages 9 and up can apply to the 2020 contest and exhibition, which will be held virtually in November and December. The deadline for submissions is October 7th.

Read more about the competition at

Read about the history of monkeys in ceramic art...

Monkey Business

Watch a video from the Center for Great Apes