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Fredericksburg artist Gabriel Pons’ print is wildly popular

Fredericksburg artist Gabriel Pons designed a T-shirt for the World Wildlife Fund’s anti-poaching initiative. / Photo by Robert A. Martin

Fredericksburg artist Gabriel Pons is used to seeing his pieces displayed publicly.

But having his work displayed across the chests of Leonardo DiCaprio, Alyssa Milano, Jamie Foxx and other celebrities is an altogether different experience.

Those celebs—and a host of oth ers—have recently been spotted wearing T–shirts featuring a design by Pons that supports the World Wildlife Fund, one of the world’s leading conservation nonprofits.

Pons, who co-owns the Ponshop Studio art gallery in downtown Fredericksburg with wife, Scarlett Pons, was contacted in July 2012 to design the shirt, after a member of the organization saw his other T–shirt designs.

The shirt has been used in the WWF’s “Hands Off My Parts” cam paign, an initiative launched in February to raise awareness of the illegal wildlife trade.

Pons, 38, said the main goal of the shirt is to spawn action, and the design—featuring an elephant with “Hands off my Parts” superimposed in graffiti on its torso and the slogan in red over the image—reflects that.

“If you look at the overall aesthetic, there is a lot of motion,” he said.

The shirt is not yet available for purchase but will be, through the WWF, in coming months.

DiCaprio, who is on the board of the WWF, was the first to wear the shirt and spearheaded the campaign.

He and the other celebrities have since worn Pons’ shirt out and about and in public-service ads.

“There’s a sense of reward,” Pons said. “With any artist it’s one thing to have work be seen in public, but another to have work be part of a larger message.”

Pons said the message became important to him, especially after researching for the project.

“I became personally invested when I realized that this has such a large social impact,” he said.

He said work like this touches a nerve in the global community.

As recently as March 15, at least 86 elephants were killed in southwest ern Chad, close to the Cameroon border. Among the animals killed were more than 30 pregnant females. The calves were left to die, and some were shot, National Geographic re ported.

According to the WWF, “the world is dealing with an unprecedented spike in illegal wildlife trade, threat ening to overturn decades of conser vation gains.”

The statistics cited by the organi zation are startling. Ivory estimated to weigh more than 23 metric tons—a figure that represents 2,500 ele phants—was confiscated in the 13 largest seizures of illegal ivory in 2011, according to WWF.

The group’s campaign literature also blames poaching for whittling the numbers of wild tigers down to 3,200.

“I realized the stakes were much higher than I previously thought,” Pons said.

Illicit wildlife trafficking is the fifth-largest illegal trade after drugs, counterfeiting, human trafficking and oil, according to the WWF.

“The criminals involved in illegal wildlife trafficking are distributing weapons, intimidating communities, killing rangers who are trying to protect wildlife and bribing officials to get what they want,” said a release for the campaign.

To help, the WWF recommends being aware of purchased products. They urge consumers not to buy ivory, tiger or rhino products, turtle shells or live primates.

Pons isn’t new to art for a cause.

He installed a mixed-media piece in support of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei in 2011 at the G40 Uncapped Live Exhibit in Washington.

The piece, titled “Ai Weiwei: 21st Century Revolutionary,” was in stalled while the artist was detained by Chinese authorities.

“This collaboration with WWF is proof that art is a powerful medium for a message that affects the global community,” Pons said.

Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976