By Kelsi Peace, Features Editor
One morning, Dr. Bob Hunter opened his front door and found an elephant staring back at him.
The pony-sized stuffed elephant was wearing a tutu and waiting to become the newest addition to Hunter’s elephant collection, a smorgasbord of crafted elephants, ranging from cloth to crystal works of art.
This particular addition would eventually be named Sherri, in honor of Hunter’s long-time political campaign manager, Sherri Statler.
Hunter, ACU vice president emeritus and former Texas State Representative, has displayed his vast collection at the Capitol in Austin since his service began in 1986.
The display, which includes nine full cabinets of elephants, has entertained friends and international visitors at the capitol.
And not only have many enjoyed it, but many have also added to the collection.
Hunter said his father-in-law and mother-in-law contributed the first piece of the collection in the 1950s, after his father-in-law returned from Thailand where he taught engineering.
Since then, Hunter has received pieces from his son Kent Hunter, an ACU alumnus who travels for his work as a graphic designer. Hunter’s son Les Hunter, an ACU alumnus, added to the collection as well with elephants from his travels as a visual effects producer.
Not all additions came from family.
Hunter said a Japanese diplomat made a contribution during a visit to the Capitol.
“He took a dollar bill out of his billfold and sat there [at] my desk in my chair at the capital and he made this origami art,” Hunter said.
An Italian rose painter gave Hunter an elephant after being honored at the Grace Museum in Abilene, Hunter said.
The artist even named his piece for Hunter.
“He presented it to me and he said, ‘elegante elephante,'” Hunter said.
Hunter himself has done his share of rummaging through antique stores in search of elephants to add to the collection.
“It’s just amazing what you find when you start [looking],” he said.
Because of his persistence, Hunter owns the complete collection of Frankoma Pottery’s National Republican Party elephant mugs.
According to www.antiqueweek.com, John Frank designed the first 5-ounce mug in 1968 as a fundraiser for the Republican party.
The mugs were released with the year and names of the president and the vice president displayed on the side.
Hunter, who owns an original 1968 mug, said they were sold for $10 per piece, and the mold was eventually broken.
A particularly interesting mug, Hunter said, is a bright orange elephant mug that exhibits the names of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnu.
Another valuable piece in the collection is a blue Beanie Baby elephant that is one of only 500, Hunter said.
A desperate father offered $5,000 for an identical elephant on e-bay, Hunter said. Hunter’s elephant sat on his secretary’s desk at the capitol.
Other elephants are crystal, jade, ivory, wood, metal, brass, bronze, fine porcelain or ceramic, Hunter said. They are black, white, pink and colored. They are salt and pepper shakers, bobble heads and clocks.
The sizes of the elephants are as varied as their materials. Sherri is the largest elephant in the collection and the size of a small pony.
The smallest elephant is the world’s smallest hand carved elephant and comes from India, Hunter said. It is encased in a miniscule ivory case that resembles a pea pod, and the carved elephant inside is impressively detailed.
Hunter shares the elephants that are displayed with anyone who wishes to see them, and he will also bring his collection to those who cannot come to him.
Next year, the soft elephants from Hunter’s collection will accompany medical doctors, nurses and dentists to Zambia after being sanitized.
“When all the little kids are in line waiting to get medical help, they’re going to pass out these little soft elephants. I have hundreds of them and we’re going to give them to all the little [kids], which is great,” Hunter said.
Hunter is more than willing to give away his elephants. In fact, he said he considered throwing a party when his term ends in January 2007 and sending away each guest with an elephant.
However, some collection contributors insisted he keep the elephants together, Hunter said, because they were a gift and because they compose a spectacular collection.
Hunter, in the midst of moving his elephants from the Capitol to Abilene, has 64 boxes of elephants resting in his storeroom, with many more waiting at the Capitol.
Hunter said he had never counted the elephants, but he said he had at least 1,000 soft elephants.
“It’s just amazing how many have come,” he said. “We’ll have to count them someday.”
Hunter said a community collection museum in Abilene is one possible location for the elephant collection; other collectors in Abilene would contribute as well.
“It was just amazing how many friends you make with a collection,” he said. “And how many people have told me that they have elephant collections.”
For now, Sherri the elephant is in storage, waiting to be put on display for everyone to enjoy.