Mastodons on the Loose in Muskegon

Mastodons are on the loose in downtown Muskegon! The public is invited to help the Lakeshore Museum Center celebrate Moxie, Muskegon’s latest monumental public sculpture, on Thursday, August 22, at 5:00pm at the Lakeshore Museum Center. Moxie, a life-size bronze mastodon and our newest downtown resident, is breaking out of the

Lakeshore Museum Center at the corner of 4th Street and Clay Avenue in search of the 20 mini-mastodons that are on the loose and hidden throughout downtown Muskegon. The LMC is publishing a scavenger hunt pocket-guide filled with clues about where all the little ones are. The public is invited to walk the town and try to identify where the mini-mastodons are located. Show the results of your search and the staff at the LMC will be waiting with a little prize!

“The mastodon is Michigan’s official state fossil—something that many people probably don’t know. Thanks mainly to the students at Slauson Middle School in Ann Arbor who petitioned the Michigan State Legislature to get this done, the Mastodon was designated by the Legislature in 2002 as the official Fossil of the State of Michigan“, said Judy Hayner, retired director of the Muskegon Museum of Art, who has spearheaded this effort to bring the Moxie and the mini-mastodons to Muskegon.

One of the most complete mastodon skeletons ever found was discovered near Owosso, Michigan, and the longest and most intact trail of mastodon footprints ever uncovered were discovered near Ann Arbor, Michigan. In 1987, the fossilized remains of a 30-year female found many years earlier in Rothbury were donated to the Lakeshore Museum Center. Inspired by this donation, the Museum created a permanent exhibition called Coming to the Lakes, which features a HUGE, life-sized fabricated and furry mastodon.

The mastodon is a distant relative of today’s elephant that, along with woolly mammoths, giant beavers, and other massive animals, roamed throughout Michigan, including in Muskegon, about 14,000 to 10,000 years ago. It sported a pair of tusks as long as 16 feet, stood between seven and nine feet tall, and weighed somewhere around six tons. As the last ice age gave way to the global warming of its day, this magnificent animal disappeared from Michigan. That same global thaw may have been responsible for the extinction of many giant animals throughout North America categorized as mega-fauna, including giant sloths, beavers, oxen, deer, moose and other animals that only exist now in the smaller variations we know today.

Mastodons on the Loose is the first project from the MuskegonCity Public Art Initiative. Launched in July 2018 by philanthropist Patrick O’Leary and led by Hayner, the initiative aims to add up to 10 new significant works of art to the city of Muskegon. It operates under the auspices of the Community Foundation for Muskegon County in collaboration with the Downtown Arts Committee and has a particular focus on works that link to the city’s history and compliment the more than 40 pieces of public art already in the downtown region.

More than 50 generous donors who contributed so generously to the main sculpture and the little ones have helped bring Mastodons on the Loose to life. MOXIE, which is defined as containing energy, determination, courage, and expertise, was chosen as the best name for this BIG sculpture, and perfectly represents the essential character of both Muskegon and the Lakeshore Museum Center. Moxie will look like it’s “breaking out of the basement,” Lakeshore Museum Center President Annoesjka Soler said, “and the twenty little mastodons are scattered throughout downtown at our most favorite and iconic sites”.

“Moxie definitely has a whimsical nature,” Soler said. “The mastodon is coming out of the building to look for the little ones who have scampered off on their own little adventures. This is a work of art that both kids and adults can engage with. They can sit on Moxie to have their pictures taken and together they can all look for all the little ones, learning more about their town at the same time. This project fits in with what we’re doing with the LMC today and enhances our goal of being a playful place where our whole community is welcome. We invite everyone to visit Moxie!”

Contemporary international artists Gillie and Marc, who live and work in Australia, created both the large 7 1/2 foot by 14 foot mega fauna sculpture and the marvelous mini-mastodons, all of whom have distinctive bright blue tusks. The artists, real-life husband and wife, have created art collaboratively for over 25 years. Their work has received critical acclaim world-wide, and their paintings and sculptures are held in collections both in Australia, and internationally. Their specialty is in creating monumental public art installations in bronze. For many years, Gillie and Marc have been focused on the Earth’s mega fauna, the land animals often larger than modern counterparts and considered archetypical of the last ice age. These creatures, most of which became extinct around the world all at about the same time except in Africa, have primarily
been discovered in northern Eurasia, the Americas and Australia…connecting vastly different regions around this planet to a shared past and to shared challenges that have impacted not just regions or countries but the whole world.

Since 1937, the Lakeshore Museum Center has inspired curiosity and wonder about Muskegon County’s natural and cultural history through interactive exhibits and engaging experiential programs. The Center is comprised of multiple sites and buildings including the Museum Center, the Hackley & Hume Historic Site, the Fire Barn Museum, and the Scolnik House of the Depression Era. As the Lakeshore Museum Center transitions from a predominately history museum to one that includes more science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) with innovative hands-on exhibits still focused on Muskegon’s rich and diverse natural and cultural history, Mastodons on the Loose is leading the way, proving that the Future of History in Muskegon is filled with fun, interest, whimsy, and fascinating learning experiences for the whole community.