Plymouth born David McKee, celebrated author and illustrator of the much-loved Elmer storybooks – which have sold a staggering 10m copies around the globe – is in the city for the 30th anniversary of his first Andersen Press Elmer publication and he’s set to launch Elmer’s Big Parade, Devon and Cornwall’s biggest art event of 2019, on Monday 8 July.
The Parade, an enchanting trail of 40 unique elephant sculptures lovingly painted by established and emerging artists, including internationally renowned Brian Pollard, will spread a smile across Plymouth and surroundings for ten weeks until 16 September.
The free, family-friendly event – a collaboration between St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth, Wild in Art and Andersen Press – is expected to attract 250m visitors to Plymouth and surroundings, as well as encouraging local people to get outside to discover each member of the mammoth mob, taking them to places they may not have been to before. Along the way, it is expected to bring a huge boost to the local economy, benefiting businesses from shops to restaurants.
These are no ordinary elephants – they’re on an important mission to raise awareness and funds for St Luke’s and the vital service the charity provides, looking after terminally ill patients and supporting their families when time is running short.
Each of the sculptures is sponsored by a local organisation, including businesses of all sizes, with headline sponsor for the event being Stagecoach South West, the region’s leading bus operator.
The much-anticipated Parade is the culmination of months of preparation as the 40 artists selected to paint an ‘Elmer’ worked their magic, some of them based at Herd HQ within St Luke’s pop-up shop selling quality second-hand furniture at the former Toys R Us store at Western Approach, where they have welcomed visitors keen to get a sneaky peek before the big reveal of the finished masterpieces.
A key part the Parade is the educational programme that has engaged 10,000 students across 25 local schools, generously funded by the Thomas Cook Children’s Charity.
Not only has the St Luke’s Education team encouraged the schools to have tonnes of fun learning more about art and creating their own unique mini Elmer, all of which will be on display at Mount Edgecumbe, they’ve come alongside school staff to enhance their confidence and skills in supporting children living with loss.
It’s estimated that 1 in 29 children – one is every class – has experienced the death of someone close to them, so St Luke’s is working with teachers and other staff to encourage more open conversations with youngsters about death, dying and bereavement, which – when conducted sensitively in an age-appropriate way – help ensure no child feels left behind.
Elmer’s Big Parade Plymouth officially launched early this week at a special preview evening, where all 65 Elmer’s were gathered together under one roof for a big reveal to sponsors and artists. Alongside local artists including Brian Pollard was a very special guest – David McKee.
Elmer creator David McKee, grew up in Tavistock and was educated in Plymouth he said:
“The pleasure that you can feel that the illustrators and painters have had working with this, there’s a real excitement to be had with this project, which is incredible. I’m 84 now, so I’ve seen the way hospices help families. The hospice isn’t just a building that people go to – while it is a big part of it, an even bigger part is all the work which is done in the actual homes of the people who are suffering. A lot of people would prefer to stay in their own home, and St Luke’s helps them to do that. To find out there’s such a high percentage of children who know bereavement through the loss of someone close, and that St Luke’s is very involved in helping the children get through those periods, it’s incredible. It’s quite emotional really, knowing that something you started that long ago is not only still around, but new things from others have been made because of that. I suppose in a way, there is a sort of responsibility which you feel. Especially when you realise that it’s not just decorative – the cause is such a good one. Helping St Luke’s in any way is a good cause.”
On meeting David, local artist and St Luke’s patron Brian Pollard said,
“It was such an honour to meet and talk to the famous creator of Elmer, David McKee. David was delighted to see his creation come to life with the wonderful creativity of mainly local artists. I was surprised to hear that he had also visited a local gallery to view my paintings and he went on to make some positive remarks about my artwork. I think I can speak for all the artists when I say we are all honoured and delighted to be involved in such a wonderful fundraising project, for a charity that is so close to all our hearts.”
Brian’s Elmer will be on display outside the Theatre Royal Plymouth.
For many of the artists, the trail has a real personal connection. Local artist Colin Pethick’s involvement was a chance to support St Luke’s and at the same time pay tribute to his wonderful wife Zheng, for whom the charity cared for before she passed away he said: “It was so inspiring to see all the Elmers together, truly mind boggling how so many fantastic ideas have formulated from one form, good old Elmer. To meet David was such an honour. I was moved greatly by the smaller Elmer’s also and the participation of the school children. It is so important to me as an artist that we inspire and encourage the young creative minds and also through that process educate on the notion of bereavement. That for me was why I was so pleased to be invited to take part in the project. It was such a valid form of cathartic release for me personally. Thank you again St Luke’s for everything.” You can see Colin’s Elmer titled “The Beauty of Transcience” displayed on Plymouth Hoe.
St Luke’s Chief Executive, Steve Statham, said: “The wait is over and it’s time for the grand reveal of Elmer’s Big Parade! We couldn’t be more excited to see everyone get out and about across our city’s iconic locations to follow the herd.
“The Parade is going to be a real delight for people of all ages as they explore on foot and interact with the social media side, too. Along the way, they’ll learn more about the outstanding care and support St Luke’s provides for patients at home, in hospital and at our specialist unit at Turnchapel.
“We believe everyone deserves to live well to the end, and it’s only thanks to the kindness of our community that we can sustain our service, being there to make a difference and helping families through the most challenging of times.
“The support of local businesses is a critical part of this, and the way they’ve got behind Elmer’s Big Parade as sponsors is heart-warming. There’s still time for more to be part of one of the city’s biggest events and get their brand in a prominent position seen by thousands – a great opportunity to raise their profile while doing good.
“To everyone who has put in the hours and gone the extra mile to make this fantastic summer extravaganza happen, I want to say a huge thank you. It would not have been possible without our hardworking staff and volunteers, as well as our sponsors and the companies who have given in kind. I feel very proud to be part of such an incredibly caring community.”
Bob Dennison, Managing Director of Stagecoach South West, the headline sponsor of the trail, said: “We are thrilled to be Presenting Partner and supporting such a wonderful charity. We will be working to help raise awareness of Elmer’s Big Parade Plymouth and the incredible work done by St Luke’s, and of course help raise vital funds. We work to support a range of local community causes in the South West, the very communities we help bring together through our local bus services. It’s fantastic to see the excitement about the trail already starting to build and we are delighted to be backing such a fabulous and worthwhile fundraising campaign.”
The grand finale of Elmer’s Big Parade will be the auction at which the Elmer sculptures will be going, going, gone to raise funds for St Luke’s.
The official trail map is available to download via the App Store, Google Play or available in print at local tourist information and St Luke’s charity shops.