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Artist pays tribute to exotic animals killed

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Zena Hemmen's

Zena Hemmen's "49 Lives" exhibit is on display in the Animal Health Library in Wegner Hall.

Zena Hemmen's "49 Lives" exhibit is on display in the Animal Health Library in Wegner Hall.

LATISHA JENSEN | Evergreen reporter

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The 49 innocent animal lives taken in 2011 in Zanesville, Ohio, happened when officers were given the order to shoot them for human safety. The owner of the zoo had released them before ending his own life.

This event resonated with artist and third-year veterinary student, Zena Hemmen, inspiring her to produce lasting pieces of art as a tribute to these fallen exotic animals.

Hemmen began creating art the moment she could hold a pencil. She drew so often, with the giant magic markers she held incorrectly, that she got a trigger thumb and had to wear a splint until she grew out of it.

Hemmen focused her artwork on animals mainly, but especially on horses. She drew mostly until high school when she got into clay, and in college, she began to explore painting.

“I’m really into the diversity of animals,” Hemmen said. “They’re a mystery, and I think that’s what I like about them.”

While working on her undergraduate degree in fine arts at Oregon State University, she realized she didn’t need to get a career in art in order to pursue it. Her passion for animals made it an easy decision for her to become a veterinarian, she said.

The art of medicine ties in with fine arts, and Hemmen holds an advantage.

“A lot of art is integrated into the veterinary science, so in a way, it melds really well,” Hemmen said. “There’s a lot of visual thought and dexterity with your hands that comes with it. I am happy with my decision.”

She has always loved all animals. Hemmen was the little girl who caught frogs and snakes outside, walked hermit crabs the size of her hand on ferret leashes and taught her chickens to jump over obstacles.

The wooden tiles she painted the tigers, rhinos and elephants faces in a few of her pieces convey the realness of animals. She likes that she can feel genuine emotions in their faces rather than the basic craft store look, she said.

“It wasn’t a political comment about them,” Hemmen said. “It was more of an ode to each one of those lives.”

Hannah Rodriguez, third year veterinary student and Hemmen’s classmate, adores her work and is in part the reason Hemmen decided to put her art on display.

“Zena is always doodling, and I love all of her art,” Rodriguez said. “That’s the one thing I really like about art, it speaks to different people in different ways.”

Rodriguez is drawn to her work and knew others would be as well. She hadn’t heard about the animal massacre until she saw Hemmen’s perspective on it expressed through her artwork.

Hemmen’s “49 Lives” artwork is on display in the Animal Health library in Wegner Hall until May.

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Artist pays tribute to exotic animals killed