Artists Organize for Mill Mountain Zoo

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One of several paintings Alexandra Leonetti contributed to the auction. This one features Mill Mountain Zoo's snow leopard.

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Miniturist Amanda Kelly displays one of several tiny vases she created for the Mill Mountain Zoo silent auction.

As a kid, when Amanda Kelly visited her dad in Roanoke, she treasured their days at the Mill Mountain Zoo. Like most youngsters, she connected with the animals and found them fascinating.  

Today, Kelly is a first-year graduate student in Radford University’s Master of Fine Arts program and the Vice President of the Graduate Art Student Association. She currently lives in Roanoke and found she wanted to do something to help the zoo. 

“It’s a staple of Roanoke and it has importance in the community,” Kelly said discussing the coming event. “I thought it would be a great opportunity for the Graduate Art Student Association to branch out into Roanoke and create art inspired by the Zoo and raise money to support their conservation efforts.” 

That inspiration motivated a collaboration between the zoo and Radford’s graduate artists who have organized a silent art auction to take place on the last Saturday in April at the Mill Mountain Zoo.  

Bambi Godkin, Mill Mountain Zoo’s Education Manager, said she was excited when the students first ran the idea by her. She explained that the zoo is a non-profit requiring over $1 million annually for operation but receives only a small portion of that in municipal funding, so every penny counts.  

“Money raised through fundraisers like this is important,” said Godkin, “because it helps us cover costs associated with animal care, such as food, medicine, enrichment and staffing.” 

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Amanda Kelly begins work on a turtle shell plate.

“I know the staff and I are really looking forward to seeing all of the finished pieces the students have been working on and we hope for a nice turnout from the public.” 

Five artists will participate in the fundraiser and attendees will have a wide array of artwork to bid on.  

Amanda Kelly specializes in miniatures and her auction offerings include tiny ceramic vases adorned with images related to the zoo like the Mill Mountain Star and one of the zoo’s biggest crowd pleasers, it’s red panda. 

GASA President Alexandra Leonetti will contribute a variety of animal portraits including the zoo’s red panda, snow leopard, red wolf and a mother duck and duckling.  

The paintings are right up Leonetti’s alley since she has been commissioned for pet portraits in the past and embraces animal subjects. 

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Sydne Moseley’s abstracts based on tortoise shells, framed and ready for the auction.

“The eyes of animals are very interesting to paint,’ Leonetti reflected. “To get that really glossy, gemlike look to them, I find challenging.” 

When it is done well, she says, it is very striking. “That brings people into the painting just like a regular human portrait.” 

As part of the process, the artists had a personalized tour of the zoo. Sydne Moseley said it was the first time she’d been to a zoo since kindergarten. 

Her work for the project was inspired by the tortoises and turtles at the Mill Mountain and she said she wanted to provide an abstract twist by concentrating on their shells. 

“I like the texture that they have on the back of the shells,” she said, “and I knew I could work with the geometric shapes to create something nice.” 

The April 30 event will take place at the zoo from 10 a.m. through 2 p.m. and the artists will be in attendance. Bidding for the auction will take place in-person and online through the GASA Facebook page (

Red Wolf Close-72-900

Leonetti's painting one of the red wolves sheltered by the Mill Mountain Zoo up for auction

Apr 26, 2022
Sean Kotz