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Art of Africa

McKee revisits its jungle roots with Kenyan animal sculpture exhibit

When an email from Nairobi, Kenya, appeared on Christine Hobart’s computer screen over a year ago, she was intrigued. It suggested a possible exhibit for McKee Botanical Garden featuring welded scrap metal sculptures of African animals. But the garden’s executive director put it aside to pursue other ideas. 

Yet, she kept coming back to it. “The more I thought about it and explored it with others, the more it seemed like a perfect fit for us because of our history,” she says. 

Indeed, the garden’s original 80 acres of tropical hammock was a noted Florida pre-Disney attraction, McKee Jungle Gardens. It drew thousands of visitors each year until it closed in 1976. And significantly, as Hobart points out, animals found a home in the garden among the water lilies, orchids, native plants and exotic specimens. “There was an elephant, monkeys, two chimpanzees and even a bear. They all went to zoos when the garden closed,” she says. 

And so, when McKee’s exhibit “It’s A Jungle Out There!” opens on Nov. 4, animals will again engage visitors. This time, however, they will be in the form of original works of art created specifically for McKee by artisans of The Ark Collective, located in Nairobi and sponsored by Ijit Export Agency.