Bird paintings by Islip's Olivia Bouler, 11, raise thousands for Gulf oil relief

Olivia Bouler has always enjoyed painting birds, finding

Olivia Bouler has always enjoyed painting birds, finding subjects during summers spent with her dad's family on Alabama's Gulf Coast. (June 15, 2010) Photo Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Olivia Bouler's Islip bedroom is an unlikely headquarters for a national fundraising effort to save the birds of the Gulf Coast. Yet here, at a desk strewn with pencils and paint tubes, next to a four-poster bed piled high with stuffed toy birds, the fifth-grader found a way to help.

Combining her love of painting, her fascination with birds and her personal connection to Alabama's Gulf Coast, Olivia's modest campaign to raise money for the National Audubon Society - offering watercolors of birds to people who donate - has launched her onto the national stage.

She is advocating for creation of new habitat to replace what the BP oil spill is threatening to destroy. To date, her parents estimate she has raised more than $100,000.

"It's just completely amazing how many people want my drawings," said Olivia, 11. "It gives them a way to help. A lot of people feel helpless about it."

She has been featured on CNN, CBS and BBC Radio. Wednesday she is scheduled to appear on the "Today" show. And she has been invited to paint a watercolor, live, to be auctioned during "Larry King Live" on Monday night.

Standing over her desk Tuesday, paintbrush in hand, Olivia talked about the birds she loves. One is a great blue heron named Carlisle. At the cottage in Orange Beach, Ala., where Olivia's father spent his childhood summers, Carlisle often stands on the dock, flipping mullet out of the water, or perched in a pine tree and peering down as Olivia gazes up.

"He's really awesome," she said, layering strokes of blue and white and black to evoke the stately wader's blue-gray coloring.

Olivia's family was gathered in their Islip home three days after the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, as her grandfather, on the phone from Alabama, described the gushing well and the ecological disaster. Listening, Olivia sobbed.

That night, she wrote to the National Audubon Society. "I am a decent drawer, and I was wondering if I could sell some bird paintings and give the profits to your organization," she wrote. Beside a hand-painted cardinal, she signed the letter: "Olivia Bouler, 11 years old and willing to help."

The Audubon Society suggested she create a Facebook page offering watercolors for donors. As her audience exploded - she now has more than 18,000 fans - AOL took notice, and, pledging a $25,000 donation, invited her to create an AOL Artists page.

Launched on June 8, the page has directed about $71,000 in donations to Audubon, an AOL spokeswoman said.

Olivia committed to creating an original watercolor for the first 500 donors, and is nearly halfway through the project. Her mother has made 10,000 prints of Olivia's work, which AOL will distribute to the thousands of others who have donated.

Tuesday, before her end-of-year band concert at Islip Elementary School - she plays the saxophone - Olivia said her mission extends beyond her beloved birds. "We need to get off oil," she said. "Even plastic is bad, you know? It's made of oil."

Last Friday, on her 11th birthday, Olivia went swimming with her father in Perdido Pass, Ala. A sticky, brown blob attached itself to Olivia's foot. Her father carried her out and cleaned her off.

The next day, the blobs littered the beach.

The best of Newsday every day in your inbox. Get the Newsday Now newsletter!

Comments now uses Facebook for our comment boards. Please read our guidelines and connect your Facebook account to comment.

You also may be interested in: