have been impressed with the Save the Chimps enterprise from the very first moment I stepped onto the 150-acre preserve.

I saw the chimps living in families on islands surrounded by water, infused with sunlight and containing not only structures to climb, but food to find, blankets to carry and toys to play with — lots of toys.

This was retirement on the large scale for these animals who had spent way too much time in a New Mexican lab enduring experiments and drug testing while housed in small steel cages. Chimps who once worked as astronauts and entertainers have also come to live here, as have former pets stolen from jungle homes for illegal trade.

When Carole Noon came to their rescue in 1997, after fighting the federal government for custody, that was only the beginning of the quality life these 216 chimps were able to lead.

Upon introduction into the preserve — no matter how preferable it is to living in a cage — these animals undergo slow socialization to be adopted by existing family groups. There’s a lot of downtime, and the chimps are introduced to art as an enrichment course.

Oh yes, there are Picassos amid the primates.

To view their prolific output, stop by Osceola 32 gallery (32 S.E. Osceola St.) in downtown Stuart from 6 to 9 p.m. Jan. 14 for the opening of their abstract acrylic paintings, as well as the work of Vero Beach painter Barbara Sharp, who has done a series of paintings of the chimps.

All money made from chimp paintings goes to Save the Chimps, and Sharp will donate a percentage of her profits.

One painter, Cheetah, really has been cranking out the work. He’s about 40 years old but no one knows if he was born in the wild or in captivity. What is known is that starting in 1983, Cheetah lived at the Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery in Primates, a now-closed research facility. He lived in 25 square feet of space for 13 years and was subjected to more than 400 liver biopsies.

When the lab closed Cheeta went to the Coulston Foundation, where he was in at least one other biomedical study until being rescued by Noon.

“Cheetah is described as a socially awkward chimp, a little on the aggressive side,” said Triana Romano, who works to publicize Save the Chimps. “It is interesting that he is such a good painter. It shows just how complex he is. The chimps are so intelligent and they need things to stimulate their minds.”

The show will be up through Feb. 6, so stop by and pick up a chimp masterpiece for the kids. Admission will cost you one juicy banana.

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