For the last three and a half years, Las Vegas teenager Tahoe Mack has been hard at work creating an 18-foot-tall, life-size mammoth sculpture. The giant figure is composed of scrap metal that had been left as litter in Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument, a recreation area just north of Las Vegas. The project originally came to fruition as part of Mack’s Girl Scout Gold Award, an honor awarded to young women who create lasting change in their communities.
As of today, the Monumental Mammoth project has involved more than 100 volunteers and raised over $250,000 in cash and in-kind donations. It’s appeared at festivals such as Burning Man and Life Is Beautiful, and is set to be permanently installed at Ice Age Fossils State Park in North Las Vegas in spring 2020.
The project began when Mack met Sherri Grotheer, director of development and fundraising for Protectors of Tule Springs, when she came to speak to Mack’s girl scout troop years ago. Grotheer visited Troop 41 asking if any of the girls could come up with ways to help out Tule Springs with fundraising.
Rather than creating a campaign to raise money, Mack wanted to hold a trash collecting day for the community, so people could feel directly connected with Tule Springs. “The one thing that really inspired me was the amount of metal and just trash out at the monument,” said Mack. “Some of [the trash] has been out there so long it’s historic. … It’s just been piling up because things just don’t decay the same way [in the desert] they do anywhere else.”
Mack decided to take her efforts a step further, incorporating art into her Girl Scout Gold Award by taking those found pieces of scrap metal collected from Tule Springs and repurposing them into an enormous mammoth sculpture.
According to Mack, a mammoth was the right choice because the prehistoric animal’s massive size would represent the massive amounts of trash littered throughout the area.
When the time came to actually begin work on the mammoth, Mack, who had no previous metalworking experience, reached out to the art community in Las Vegas to see if her idea was even possible. Those who believed the project was feasible continued to direct Mack to the proper artists, which eventually lead her to Luis Varela-Rico, who created the interior skeleton, and Dana Albany, who built the exterior skin.
Beyond Varela-Rico and Albany, who were the lead artists, over 100 volunteers contributed their time and efforts to making the massive sculpture. Mack said the Girl Scout Gold Award requires 80 hours of service, which she exceeded within the first year. During one phase of the project, Mack would spend four to five hours a day after school setting up meetings, fundraising and talking to community leaders in Las Vegas.
Fundraising efforts still continue. As of today, the total cost of the project has reached $250,000. More than 50 percent of the donations have been in-kind, including a building space donated by XL Steel, Inc.
Although the sculpture itself is actually finished, Mack said she considers the Monumental Mammoth an ongoing project. She’ll feel like the mammoth will have finally completed its goal when she goes back to the installation five years from now and there’s a beautiful park surrounding the sculpture, people excavating fossils and schoolchildren talking about how their parents helped work on the Monumental Mammoth.
“I don’t think that art ends when the actual piece of art is finished,” said Mack. “I think a part of this piece is the communal and social aspect to it, so I think the piece is going to be something that will continue to grow in symbolic value and communal value.”
The Monumental Mammoth is set to be permanently installed at Ice Age Fossils State Park in spring 2020.