artwork with rainbow colored circles on a white background

Mary Engel

Mary Engle has a lifelong fascination with animal archetypes as it is found in diverse cultures. We know that the first intentional burials with ritual objects occurred 35,000 years ago and, with them, the first expressions of human faith appeared. Among these objects, a predominant burial image was the animal. The use of ritualized animal images has had enduring religious, mythic, and aesthetic significance. For Mary, these images symbolize a bridge between the rational and instinctual worlds. Through her work, she aspires to create whimsical, animated creatures using gesture and ‘movement’ to capture a presence she feels animals possess.

Mary uses found objects as her main material. She travels all around the world collecting objects which she then organizes in her studio based on color. So rather than an artist’s usual tube of black paint, Mary pulls from a drawer filled with black objects ranging anywhere from small watch faces to tiny scottie dog figurines.

This particular sculpture, Sandra, was created from a real orangutan that Mary had the pleasure of meeting at the Center for Great Apes. Here is Sandra’s incredibly unique story.

Sandra’s Story

The Center for Great Apes, a non-profit sanctuary for orangutans and chimpanzees based in Florida, has welcomed Sandra, the first orangutan granted legal personhood, to her new home at the sanctuary. Sandra arrived at the Center November 5, 2019 after a month-long quarantine period at the Sedgwick County Zoo in Kansas. Sandra gained international fame when Argentine Judge Elena Liberatori granted the orangutan legal personhood stating that animals are sentient beings, and the first right they have is our obligation to respect them. The Center for Great Apes will provide lifetime care for Sandra. For more information and frequently asked questions about Sandra, visit

We were honored to be selected by Judge Elena Liberatori as the home for Sandra, stated Patti Ragan, the founder and director of the Center for Great Apes, which has a dedicated team of trained caregivers, an on-site veterinary clinic, a nutrition program that provides healthy meals, and twenty individual outdoor ape habitats surrounded by lush tropical forested land.

Sandra, now age 33, was in need of a permanent home after the Buenos Aires Zoo closed in 2016. Since Sandra was designated with legal personhood status by Judge Elena Liberatori in an Argentine court case in 2015, she was then able to be moved to a new location by the courts. Liberatori selected the Center for Great Apes, the only accredited orangutan sanctuary in North America, as the preferred home for Sandra.

Sandra is very sweet and inquisitive, reports Ragan, She was shy when she first arrived, but once she saw the swings, toys, and grassy areas in her new home, she went to explore, reports Ragan, She has met her caregivers here and is adjusting well to the new climate, environment, and the other great apes at the Center. This is the first time in over a decade that Sandra has had the opportunity to meet other orangutans, and she will meet them when she chooses. It is a new freedom for her, and one we are grateful to provide.

The Center for Great Apes is home to 22 orangutans including Sandra and 31 chimpanzees rescued or retired from circuses, stage shows, roadside attractions, labs, and the exotic pet trade. The sanctuary is known for its innovative approach to caring for primates. In addition to providing a life with dignity, the sanctuary is designed to allow the apes options and choices of space and companions. The tall habitats are three and four stories (32-40 ft.) in height, and the apes can stroll through the woods through the mile-long aerial trailway system towards various habitats and see others of their species. These elevated walkways allow the apes to explore, walk to the health clinic, interact with one another, and change habitats. The apes are provided with many enrichment activities, a vital component to their care, as they are highly intelligent and creative.


31″ x 29″ x 16″
mixed media sculpture

Sculpture of an orangutan

Stay up to date on our art gallery, art related events, and artist in residence.

Worth Noting

Keep exploring. There’s more to discover.

Featured at The Vendue – Charleston’s Art Hotel.