Those visiting the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee—a 2,700-acre haven in Hohenwald that has provided a home for 27 elephants retired from performance or exhibition—have a chance to learn about these massive mammals while supporting and respecting their privacy.
The habitats are closed to the public, but an outdoor classroom takes visitors through a self-guided tour to educate them about elephants’ roles in their native environments, unique behaviors, and ongoing conservation efforts. That visitor’s center is also home to a uniquely engaging piece of art, one that gives visitors a sense of these creatures while maintaining their right to seclusion.
To engage audiences and capture something of their residents’ outstanding presence in a sustainable way, the sanctuary has installed a life-sized elephant statue made of tires.
The sanctuary selected Alex Lockwood, a Nashville-based sculptor who specializes in using recycled material, to deliver this one-of-a-kind piece. Lockwood’s work has been showcased at OZ Arts, Zeitgeist, and First Tennessee Park, consistently demonstrating the clever, unexpected use of material that the sanctuary sought. In pure coincidence, Lockwood had named his North Nashville art space “Elephant.”
“Alex is excellent at communicating complicated ideas through recycled materials,” explains Janice Zeitlin, the sanctuary’s CEO and executive director. “His enthusiastic approach to new subjects easily engages a wide audience of all ages. He took the challenge to create a life-sized Asian elephant from recycled materials and brought a fresh and new perspective that inspires viewers to think about reusing materials and reducing our impact on the environment.”
Using tires collected during a community drive, Lockwood’s 7-foot-6 creation is remarkably realistic, the dark rubber providing a material that mimics the tough, wrinkly skin of an elephant.
“I hope that my elephant, while not a replacement for the real thing, will bring visitors joy for what it is: a unique work of art that visitors can’t see anywhere else in the world,” Lockwood says. “Like lottery tickets, shotgun shells, and bottle caps—all objects I’ve used in my practice—used tires have a history before they reach me . . . So, like much of my past work, what I am trying to do here is to draw attention to the beauty of a valueless object when seen in an unfamiliar arrangement.”
The statue is set to serve as an ambassador to the sanctuary’s new Elephant Discovery Center, scheduled to open next summer. But in the meantime, it has been fulfilling its mission of engaging visitors and reminding them of the unique beauty of elephants.