Minnesota owl center's auction of Ukrainian children’s art raises more than $100,000

Updated: 2:30 p.m.

An auction of Ukrainian children's art sent to the International Owl Center in southeastern Minnesota has raised tens of thousands of dollars for relief efforts in Ukraine.

A painting of an owl
This artwork of an owl was created by a child in Ukraine and entered in a contest run by the International Owl Center in Houston, Minn. The center auctioned off artwork created by Ukrainian children and entered in the contest over the past two decades, with proceeds going to help the embattled country.
Courtesy International Owl Center

"I was speechless to say the least,” Owl Center executive director Karla Bloem said. “It's just mind-boggling."

The center — located in Houston, Minn. — holds an annual owl festival. That includes a children's art contest, which started with a coloring contest in 2004. It now gets paintings and drawings from all over the world.

Bloem said when the war started in Ukraine, she posted some of the drawings and paintings from Ukrainian children on social media. The response led the center to explore the possibility of auctioning off the work, some held long in storage. The initial auction started last week.

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Bidding closed at 8 p.m. Sunday after selling 59 pieces for $99,300 — for an average of $1,683 per piece. Three of the pieces sold for more than $7,500.

“I am blown away by the interest,” Bloem said in an email about the auction. “Who knew all the wonderful kids' owl art in our storage could wind up in loving homes, where people will truly care for and be concerned about the individual artists?”

Following up with MPR News later Monday, Bloem said she thinks “the thing that touched people is, it's a really tangible connection to what's going on there — and it was made by a child. So when you hold that piece of art, you feel connected to that child and you wonder where they are and if they're OK, and I think that's the thing that is really getting to people.”

A painting of owls
This artwork of owls was created by a child in Ukraine and entered in a contest run by the International Owl Center in Houston, Minn.
Courtesy International Owl Center

Additional donations pushed the total over $100,000, Bloem said. The center is passing the proceeds along to UNICEF, which has launched relief efforts aimed at children in Ukraine in the wake of the Russian attacks, including medical supplies, education support and mental health teams.

Bloem says the center has hundreds of more pieces of Ukrainian art and will have two more auctions — with the next one starting Wednesday. Details will be shared on the International Owl Center’s website.

The center also plans to print a set of greeting cards, and is keeping some of the Ukrainian children’s art in its permanent collection.

The center is also going to try to reach some of the children who sent artwork over the years.

“Most art schools that participated are in eastern Ukraine,” Bloem said. “So we don’t know if we will be able to reach them, but we will try.”