On New Hampshire Avenue at Hollywood Avenue, in the White Oak neighborhood of Silver Spring just beyond the Noodle King Restaurant, is a strange piece of sculpture that has evolved over time. It started out as a red elephant, slightly larger than a carousel animal. It disappeared for a bit, then returned, this time upside down. Slowly, pieces got added on above his feet. I’ve long been curious what the story is, who the artist is and what causes the changes to it?
— Mary Anne Walker, Mount Rainier, Md.
“Pretty much everyone in the neighborhood, if I meet them, I say, ‘I’m the guy with the big red elephant in the yard,’ ” said sculptor Howard Connelly . “Everyone knows it.”
Everyone knows it, but not everyone knows what it is. Said Howard: “I have had so many people stop by and say, ‘We’re Hindu and we just love the big red elephant.’”
It’s not a religious icon, but a political one. The title of the work is “Super PACyderm.” We’ll get to why it has that title — and why Howard made it in the first place — but first a little about the artist.
Howard is 52. When he was growing up in Colorado, he was that kid who could draw anything. After high school, he moved to California, where he fashioned props for photo shoots, learning how to turn an idea into a sketch and a sketch into a physical reality.
He’s lived in this area since 1991. In the studio behind his Silver Spring house are the tools of his trade: welding machines, metal-benders, a sandblaster, chisels, equipment to mix fiberglass resin.
Because of his facility with fiberglass, Howard has become the go-to guy to fix those elephants, donkeys and pandas that appeared over the years on District street corners and are now mainly in private collections. That’s where he got the red elephant.
Howard can make anything. He made a 3,000-pound wooden crocodile for Discovery Communications’ in-house day-care center in Silver Spring, Md. He welded massive steel azalea blossoms for a sculpture that graces Flower Avenue and Piney Branch Road in Takoma Park, Md. He made sinuous yellow metal benches for the sidewalk at Eighth Street and Florida Avenue NW in the District.
For Succotash, a restaurant at National Harbor, Howard took two baby grand pianos, disassembled them and cleverly remade them into the shape of a horse. His creations have appeared on the HGTV show “Curb Appeal.”
“It’s never the same design twice,” Howard said of his work. “That’s what I really love about it.”
A few years ago, Howard began to worry about the direction the country was going in. The red elephant became a malleable canvas for his thoughts. He gave the elephant a familiar orange hairdo and inverted it to symbolize the way Donald Trump had turned the presidency upside down.
The elephant stands on a concrete slab that represents Fox News: a rigid, inflexible base providing support to its favored candidate. Above the elephant is a rusty oil barrel for the Koch brothers. “There’s a gas line that’s like an IV trying to keep the GOP alive,” he said.
A stack of cinder blocks represents a border wall.
“I painted a bunch of dots on the wall, like you fill in on a ballot,” Howard said. Most of the dots are blue to symbolize the popular vote. “Then I put a giant shield up there. I could see that the future of politics was going to take some shielding from some of the forces out there, like money in politics.”
Art, Howard said, is about “awakening us to the empathy of others’ situations. It reminds us that there are so many stories to tell. . . . I just look for ways I can participate. I have a special skill — to make things — that hopefully can be meaningful. That’s the goal. That’s exactly why that elephant is upside down in my yard. Unfortunately, I don’t know how much it communicates to people.”
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.