OUT OF AFRICA: THE MYSTERY BEHIND THE SERENGETI ANIMAL ART

Written By: Ross Mix

A wild tale about a few of Nantucket’s wildest tails.

If you’ve ever driven down the historic Milestone Road between town and ‘Sconset, then you know about the open field that can be seen in the middle of the island, often referred to as the “Serengeti” of Nantucket. And if you know the Serengeti, then you may have spotted some of the mysterious four-legged artwork that periodically shows up there. These wild animal art pieces have been around for years, starting in 2003 with the appearance of giraffes, camels, whale fins, and even dinosaurs. The original artist or artists have to this day been deemed anonymous, with even the Nantucket Conservation Foundation, owners of the Serengeti land itself, not having any idea who created these spectacles.

Luckily, the art this year was created by a less camera shy part of the Nantucket community. Artist and teacher Michael Girvin, along with the help of his students at the Nantucket High School, worked tirelessly this year to create the display that was seen periodically in the fall and spring. In collaboration with the Conservation Foundation, Girvin’s woodshop class used 3-inch CBX plywood and other weather-resistant materials to create a new lion, lioness, and even a rhinoceros.

Girvin, a long time resident and teacher at Nantucket Public Schools since 1995, explained how motivated students were to participate in this tradition. “I had two or three girls in my advisory and they did the painting,” Girvin elaborated. “You know, they’re just really artistic kids.” Girvin also mentioned that it took him and his students a total of 14 hours to complete the art, taking time after school to finish everything by their assigned deadline of the 2018 Cranberry Festival.

With all this collaboration, Girvin did note that motivating his students may have taken some time. “The kids were kinda dumbfounded in the beginning when they were trying to figure out what the hell we were doing,” he admitted. “But then they started to see the size of them and how serious we were about getting it done quickly and in a timely fashion, so the girls made the time to paint them and get them out before that deadline.”

The artwork has since been up seasonally throughout the year, ending last fall and reappearing this May, leading up to the 2019 Daffodil Festival. Grace Hull, Director of Marketing & Communications at the Conservation Foundation, humbly noted that the students were “incredibly satisfied” with their work after they staked the animals in for the first showing last fall, just in time for their Cranberry Festival deadline.

Surprisingly, this isn’t Girvin’s first time creating popup art on the island. Recently, he confessed that he, alongside two other art contributors, created a set of polar bears that were placed out in the Nantucket harbor in 2003. As for this piece in the Serengeti, Girvin has seen nothing but praise for the work that he and his students have done. “People that live out in ‘Sconset give it compliments all the time,” he said. “I think they like it because it kinda breaks up the boredom of the drive in the fall.” Girvin and his students’ art is an inspiration to many on the island, truly showing how even a community’s wildest tradition can positively impact others.

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