Into the wilds….
James Delaney is the respected South African artist who created the incredible limited edition artwork, “Jabulani and Friends,” for our special fundraiser, Art For Elephants – to help raise vital funds for Jabulani and HERD to support the 16 remarkable African elephants in our care, during COVID-19, after global restrictions cut funding from tourism.
James’ story, his art and his vision is what made him the perfect artist to align with in the name of conservation.
James uses his artwork to support causes that are important to him, particularly in conservation, and decided to support HERD after visiting us and seeing and connecting with the work that we do. It was like attracting like…
James is especially known for his incredible feat of restoration in an inner-city park in Johannesburg, South Africa, known as The Wilds, where he took it upon himself to restore a decrepit and run-down dangerous corner of the city, transforming it into a lush green space of indigenous plants and great forests and James’ inspiring nature-focused sculptures.
James Delaney’s story of The Wilds needs to be read in its entirety. But to attempt to capture the essence of his tale, you could say it is one about giving care and attention to something neglected, for no other purpose than to restore. Perhaps it started as a way of finding a place to walk the dog, but James’ story of The Wilds, of bringing this 40-acre park in Johannesburg, a home to great indigenous flora, back from ruin, is about something far greater than one’s self and own needs. It wasn’t for monetary gain, nor honour or status. This tale is about the power of individuals creating change.
James describes the park as, “something out of storybook, like The Secret Garden.”
The story starts, James says…
“I first visited The Wilds in 2014, despite having lived right next to it for several years. My back windows face the park, but it was so dark and overgrown one couldn’t see in. People in my area regarded it as an extremely dangerous place and none of my neighbours had ever visited.”
James adds, “The staff were scared of their own park too. They told me they didn’t walk to the extremes of the park. They kept the lawns, but left the rest. New benches lay in a heap at the entrance, delivered by head office but never installed. It was clear that no one from City Parks head office ever inspected this park.
“But there was exquisite beauty. A collection of magnificent indigenous trees which was quite magnificent for an area that was grassland just a century ago. Stone pathways criss-crossed the park. There was hardly anyone there – visitors were rare, but also there were no criminals, no squatters. Just beautiful, peaceful greenery. So close to Hillbrow and downtown, this serene space.
James recruited a team to help restore The Wilds.
“One of the things which makes The Wilds so remarkable is that it’s all indigenous planting – remarkable for a park that dates back to the colonial era, when people liked planting oak trees and roses. I’m an enthusiast rather than expert on indigenous flora, and so have leaned on the knowledge of many horticultural experts, who have generously given of their time. The Wilds used to have full time horticulturalists, but City Parks had done away with that – hence the neglect of the nurseries.”
James began to visit frequently, removing dead branches and fronds and coming across wonders like baby cycads.
“Once I’d started with those dead branches, I noticed more and more. And I realized that The Wilds felt dangerous because it was so overgrown – I needed to open lines of sight so that walkers could see around them… I recruited Thulani Nkomo to help me, he’s brilliant with pruning trees. I bought more equipment, and we started clearing undergrowth and dead branches every weekend – for 3 years. Every Monday morning, City Parks would find piles of branches. And they were big piles. To their credit, they would always remove them.”
Soon, agapanthus, wild iris, wild garlic and more started flowering again and growing back. James discovered Yellowtree forests, wild olive forests and more. To encourage people to come and volunteer and to start to enjoy the park again, James turned to his artistic roots and created his very first sculptures – on Mandela Day in 2017.
“I came up with the idea of sculptures of owls, suspended in the forest. I’d never made a sculpture before – but I’m an artist, so applied myself to the new challenge. I made charcoal drawings, each has some interesting quirk or expression, and was introduced to Chris Lenferna who helped laser cut them at his factory. They were painted bright colours to stand out from the dark forest canopy. I hoped they’d draw people’s attention to the trees, and create something that they’d talk about on social media.
“Hundreds of people came that day, armed with clippers and saws. Kids screamed with delight when they saw the owls, counting them, their parents picnicked, people chopped and cleared and planted… And now the real work could begin. It’s been almost 3 years since that day, and The Wilds has been transformed.”
We’re incredibly proud and grateful to be collaborating with James for our Art For Elephants Fundraiser Campaign!
To not only have his support as a well-known and respected artist, but to have his beautiful artwork, created especially for our fundraiser, serve as a reminder of this ability of individuals and art to effect positive change – to connect people to the natural and animal world that needs our care and attention, in the same loving, unconditional way that James dedicated to bringing The Wilds back to life.
James’ story of The Wilds is not simply about one man. It’s about the partners, team, friends, volunteers, locals, residents, donors, every day people, who stepped in to lend a hand where needed.
Through our Art For Elephants Fundraiser, James’ artwork (for sale as packages that include foster sponsorships for the Jabulani herd and Khanyisa at HERD) has provided a special, essential and interactive way for people around the world to lend a hand at a difficult time.
Now that you know a little more about the man behind our Fundraiser and the beautiful artwork for sale to raise vital funds after COVID-19’s Lockdown of tourism funding, take a look at our fundraiser here and bring “Jabulani and Friends” into your home! 17 of the 30 available prints have already been sold!
- There are great perks with each artwork and a competition to win a print or a stay at Jabulani too!
- James Delaney will commission a piece of artwork (Drawing/ Sketch) of an elephant in the herd or Khanyisa – your choice. All proceeds go to caring for the elephants!
Thank you to James and to all the fabulous people who have supported us so far! We’d love to see photographs of these special pieces hanging in your home!
More about James!
James has won several awards for his artwork – beautiful creations that can be found in collections around the world and have been displayed in exhibitions in South Africa, the United States, the United Kingdom and France. Some of his works are currently on display at the Constitutional Court in South Africa. James’ artwork highlights issues around the destruction of natural habitats and the protection of wildlife and trees.