HOUSTON, Minn. — Because they lay their eggs around this time, owls are a sign of spring.
"Well, almost everybody loves owls, most cultures do," International Owl Center's Executive Director Karla Bloem said.
And if there was a place surrounded by the raptors, it would be at the International Owl Center in Houston, Minnesota.
They've got real ones, sure. However, the ones currently occupying Bloem's mind are the paintings and drawings of owls she has collected over the years.
"Right now we have thousands of pieces of art in storage," she said with a laugh.
It wasn't this bountiful when they first opened years ago. It's all thanks to the kids' coloring contest that kicked off in 2003, that the collection has grown to the thousands.
"Over the years, [the contest] has morphed into this highly competitive, very international competition that gets more than a couple thousand entries every year," Bloem explained. "Over the past several years we've gotten a lot of entries, many from Ukraine, so when things started happening over there, as just a way to share this with people I selected some of the pieces of Ukrainian art, and some of the Russian art also and shared that on our social media."
Bloem said people asked how they can buy those pieces of art by the Ukrainian children, after seeing them on social media and in newsletters.
"After discussing and thinking for a bit, and thought, 'Let's see how much we have.' And we have over 300 pieces of art from Ukrainian children in the past years," Bloem said. "So, I thought, well, if we can do an online auction accessible to so many more people than if we did something in person here."
And how is it that an international art competition from Houston, Minnesota is so popular in Ukraine?
Karla said people ask all the time.
"We have Google ads, so kids around the world Google — looking for an international art competition they can find our art contest," she said.
So that's how Houston became home to possibly the largest collection of owl art by Ukrainian children, potentially in the world.
Through this auction, though, they're hoping each piece will take flight, with the proceeds headed to UNICEF, earmarked to go specifically back to Ukrainian children.
"Every time you pick one of these pieces of art up, you look at that child's name and where they are from, and you think, 'Is this child OK? What are they going through right now?'" Bloem said. "It's really powerful and moving."
If owls indeed are a sign of spring here, hope springs eternal.
"It feels like so much responsibility to have the world see what these children have poured their talents and heart into," Bloem said. "We try everything we can within our means to have people see and appreciate this artwork."
This round of auctions includes 59 pieces of artwork done by children. You can find the link to the auction here.
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