I’m beginning to feel like a zookeeper because I keep gathering up animals — wooden, brass, bronze, iron — at my thrift shop haunts and estate sales. Swans, geese and a horse greet me at home. A lion, rooster and Chinese duck wait at our Avonlea shop, and our hand painted mallard duck just sold. Have you ever amassed an unexpected, but quite lovely, collection of items? I am not sure if this is a new direction or a pleasant diversion from wrestling with heavy furniture.

I just finished hand painting the carved African lion, so I love him best right now. I can imagine an artisan painstakingly carving this piece of folk art. Just look at the intricate detail on his mane and face. He is ageless. Unpainted Lion 2 I can’t tell you how many times I’ve mistaken Leo the Lion for my boisterous male cat. Boston, my big boy, weighs about 17 pounds but Leo easily surpasses him in mass. Once I applied the paint, my two boys shared a remarkable similarity. All too often I found myself petting an inanimate object.

I found mighty Leo at one of those warehouse estate sales, where you never know what you will discover. Typical for me, someone had tucked this beauty into a dark space at the far side of a pair of ho-hum sofas and end tables. I had to crawl over them to set him free. In terms of weight, he is a beast. I don’t know what kind of wood he is carved from, but it had to be a solid block, dense and heavy. He was in rough shape but we had an immediate connection. How could no one else have grabbed him up already? “Come on, Leo,” I said. “I’m lugging you up to the holding area. We’ll get you tidied up and find you a good home.” Hand Painted Hand Carved African Lion 1 Once we got him to our house, David and I studied him. Poor Leo possessed only his back teeth. Really, he looked more like a hippopotamus than the King of the Jungle. Not to be deterred, David immediately volunteered to carve and shape four new front teeth. He did a beautiful job. African Carved Lion Painted 3 The original wood — maybe mahogany — just didn’t bring forth Leo’s outgoing personality. I needed to carefully hand paint him. After shellacking Leo, I used Annie Sloan’s Arles for the body. For his rich, magnificent mane, I mixed Emperor’s Silk and Olive. Old White covers his teeth, and the tongue is a blend of Emperor’s Silk and Arles. I used clear wax on Leo’s entire body, and dark wax to highlight his glorious mane. African Carved Lion Painted 2 I think the result is stunning. Power, strength and plenty of charm. I envision him presiding over a living room or study — or how about in the bedroom of a young adventurer who appreciates daring escapades with magical animals? If you are interested in Leo, he’s currently on display at our shop in Avonlea Antique Mall.

Ann Marie and David

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