Wildlife artist and Mandeville resident, Anne London, has entered her fourth decade as an artist, but her journey is far from over. Her work and travels are dedicated to raising money and awareness for endangered animals and wildlife preservation.

Inside her studio, dressed in a jean shirt and bandana, traces of charcoal cover her hands and chest as she sketches two female lions. So fluid, they almost seem to jump off the canvas.

She shares her first trip to Africa 15 years ago and the magic that keeps calling her back.

“The first time you feel a free lion’s roar in your ribcage, the first time you make eye contact with an elephant, it’s hard not to be hooked,” London said staring at a canvas etched with a life size lion. “They are a compelling group, winners of millions of years of life and death decisions.”

She and her husband Jim Hart, started “Arts for Animals” two years ago educating a new generation of African children by teaching drawing skills and conservation. A nonprofit, it received a grant recently from the Krewe of Awe funded through the Northshore Community Foundation.

“It’s obvious these are intelligent, emotional beings,” she said admitting the first time she saw a wild elephant she cried. “To be on the same turf that these animals have lived and loved for millennia, it’s humbling and elevating at the same time.

She added, “Modern life has separated us from the authentic experience, clutters our thinking with fluff. Ten minutes of breathing that ancient air clears that out.”

Her parents moved to America from England via a cargo boat with $35 in their pocket and a sense of adventure. Born in Wisconsin, London found her own adventure and destiny in life at an early age.

“I was 10 when I saw the movie ‘Born Free,’ and I immediately dedicated myself to lions,” she said with a smile thinking back when she first told her mother. “They bought me more art supplies, thinking that might keep me busy long enough to change my mind.”

While attending Cal State University, London took a job drawing storyboards with Tippi Hedren and her company, The Film Consortium. Bored with the drawing, she learned Hedren had a reserve dedicated to saving wild animals called Shambala.

“I was 19, drove my beater car into the desert to find this place,” she explained, recalling what happened when she rang the bell at the gate. “Tippi answered the bell, placed two lion cubs in my arms and told me to help her feed them. Pure bliss.”

She began working there with full-grown lions and tigers, and knew she had found her calling but was not sure how to combine her passions for art and animals.

“I started drawing while I was there and gave Tippi a drawing of a lioness and a cub as my way of saying thanks,” she said. “I said goodbye to commercial work that day, and never looked back.”

London met her husband in Zanzibar, each were working on separate projects in the conservation field and married last year in Africa. They are working with four schools in Zimbabwe and Zambia with the Art for Animals project.

“Our first class was under a tree in the Kalahari, Botswana, using an interpreter to show the children of nomadic hunter-gatherers how to draw and appreciate their wild world,” London said. “When the elders gave me a ‘thumbs up,’ Jim and I knew we were onto something.”

London believes educating children is the key to the future of animal conservation. She hopes art may lead to making better choices and positive policy changes as many countries are seeing the benefits of eco-tourism.

“I use art as a door to a kid’s imagination,” she said, commenting her students take school very seriously. “Their parents are at the leading edge of changing thoughts about trophy hunting and habitat destruction.”

Both her home and studio is just a stone’s throw from Lake Pontchartrain. She and her husband share the home with three dogs.

“Wildlife regularly stops by, and we both love to kayak in the bayous,” she said. “Its a great place for an artist to find peace.”

To view more work by Anne London, visit www.aelondonstudio.com.

For information about Arts For Animals, visit www.aelondonstudio.com/ArtsForAnimals.

Deborah Burst writes about people behind-the-scenes of organizations and events in St. Tammany Parish. To reach her, email deborahburst@gmail.com.