For most, meeting Jane Goodall — considered the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees — would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Puyallup resident and conservancy artist Becci Crowe recently returned home from a trip where she worked with Goodall for two weeks at the Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center in the Republic of Congo.
Crowe’s trip with Goodall was a slow build, which started a few years ago when Crowe first met Goodall at the Washington State Nature Conservancy’s 50th birthday party. Once the party concluded, Crowe and her husband sat star-struck, but eventually got up and introduced themselves.
“I thought, I gotta get up and at least go say hi,” Crowe said.
As a conservancy artist, 50 percent of what Crowe makes off of her paintings she gives back to a variety of wildlife preservation organizations, including the Jane Goodall Institute.
Crowe’s art varies from paintings and drawings, but the underlying theme remains of telling the story of animals through her artwork.
“I’m presenting a piece to Jane in October,” she said. “It’s an older chimpanzee that Jane has known for over 20 years in the Congo. She’s very gray, quite large, and you can see in her eyes that she has seen a lot in the world.”
In 1994, Crowe quit her job as a nurse to become a full-time artist. However, it wasn’t until 1995 when the real adventure began during a trip to Africa for the first time.
“That was when I really started to adventure to wild and remote places,” she said. “I use my art to help raise awareness of these animals. I’m able to tell their story because I’ve been there.”
When Crowe arrived to the Republic of Congo, she saw firsthand just how crowded Goodall’s research center was. At the time, Goodall and her staff were moving chimpanzees from her orphanage to three pristine islands off the coast.
“I was able to release two chimpanzees with her,” she said. “I felt like a child living a wonderful dream and having the greatest adventure.”
Working with Goodall meant there was no tourist infrastructure — an opportunity that isn’t open to the general public.
“It was really something special,” she continued. “It was just us and Jane, 24 hours a day, seven days a week for those two weeks.”
Many of the orphans at Goodall’s rehab center came in as infants, and haven’t left since they were brought in, in 1992.
“Many of their whole families were slaughtered in the bush meat trade,” Crowe said. “Since many are too little to be eaten, they are either left to die or sold as exotic pets. Now, Jane is doing very carefully planned releases.”
At Crowe’s studio at her home on South Hill, it is obvious her time with Goodall influenced her art and her outlook as an artist.
“Every day is new, you never know what you’re going to see or experience,” she said. “It’s about sharing my personal experience that has come from the wild. I hope to raise awareness and make a difference through my art.”