Whale has historic tale

Created for regional art display, it was purchased at auction in memory of fallen sailor.

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The whale sculpture that used to be in front of The Net Result, was moved down the street to Five Corners. –Gabrielle Mannino

Updated Nov. 26

A colorful, floral-patterned fiberglass whale sculpture, which for years was located near Hinckley’s on Beach Road in Vineyard Haven, was moved several weeks ago to Five Corners to get it out of the way of bulldozers.

A warehouse at H.N. Hinckley property in Vineyard Haven was being leveled Tuesday, Michael Sawyer, the project manager for a proposed development on the site, told The Times. The whale was moved in preparation, he said. “I’m sure people drove by that whale and didn’t know the significance of it,” Sawyer said.

His mother, Kathy Sawyer, posted about the whale on Facebook, and learned that it does have a whale of a tale.

First created by Island artist Peggy Turner Zablotny as part of a massive Cape and Islands public art display in 2006, it was auctioned off to benefit the Boys & Girls Club/Big Brother Big Sister of Martha’s Vineyard. During the art display, which included 50 whales, with five on the Vineyard, Zablotny’s creation was on display outside Crane Appliance, with Paula and Bob Crane being the sponsor of the “Whale of a Garden.”

In an email, Zablotny wrote that she used premium 3M vinyl materials that were originally designed for vehicle wraps. “So the color and material were designed to hold up under tough conditions,” she wrote. Each of the flowers was cut by hand and applied, she wrote. “It took days and hours upon hours to get the design placed and burnished to the whale structure.”

Where the whale was built is a tale itself. “I said it would be great to be able to work on it in my (very small) house, and somehow some Crane employees were able to get the whale in the front door so I could work on it and get it done by the deadline,” she wrote, noting that her dog, Harry, was sad when it was moved to Crane. “The whale took up the entire living room.”

At auction, the buyers were Joseph P. Kenney II and Karen Kenney, who purchased the whale in memory of their son, Joseph P. Kenney III, who died Oct. 8, 2005, while serving in the U.S. Navy at Sigonella, Italy, according to his obituary.

Karen Kenney said her son was just about to be promoted. He had been scheduled to come home for the holidays before his death.

In school, Joseph Kenney III won awards in science and math. He played and coached hockey, was a volunteer, and was looking to pursue a career in the Navy, his mother said.

“The memories are so great. You miss him because he’s not here. He was such a delightful and positive person,” she said. “His sister and goddaughter miss him. It was very tough. The first five years were pretty tough. It lingers. It does get better, but only by being in front of it.”

Seeing the whale on their trips along Beach Road helped. “I’m very fortunate. I have a very strong faith. I have a lot of family,” Karen Kenney, a retired nurse, said.

There is no marking on the whale or the wooden box it’s mounted on to let the public know that it was purchased in memory of Joseph P. Kenney III, but it’s one of two tributes the family made to their son: “He has his commemorative brick at the Edgartown Lighthouse, and he has the whale.” They also established a charitable foundation in his memory.

Wayne Guyther, the former owner of the Hinckley property, agreed to put the whale on display at the Beach Road property, which fit with the Kenneys’ desire to have the whale close to the water.

About the same time Kathy Sawyer posted on Islanders Talk asking about the whale’s history, Karen Kenney began investigating why the whale had been moved. She even stopped by The Times newsroom to see if we had any details.

Since then, she has talked to the Sawyers, and has learned that the family is trying to get the Martha’s Vineyard Museum to take the whale for a display on its new grounds.

Katy Fuller, operations director for the museum, confirmed in an email that the museum officials have been approached about the whale. “We have a process for acquiring such objects that has to go through our collections committee, and that just hasn’t happened yet, with everything going on,” Fuller wrote.

The museum is in the process of opening at its new location in the renovated former Marine Hospital in Vineyard Haven. Fuller agreed to keep The Times posted as a decision is made.

So, for now, the creation of Zablotny and the tribute to Kenney is located on the brick patio outside Gold Bull Brazilian Steakhouse at 13 Beach St. Ext.

Karen Kenney said she knew the location outside Hinckley’s wasn’t a forever home.

At one point, the Kenneys had discussions about having the whale relocated to Martha’s Vineyard Hospital when the new building was built.

“I had approached them because they were going to have a prayer garden or sitting garden,” Karen Kenney said. “They passed on it.”

She’s gone to Vineyard Haven planning sessions, and at one point, she asked about the possibility of having the whale moved to Owen Park. But the talk never materialized into action.

Mike Sawyer said he’s happy that his mother asked the public about the whale’s history and that it will get preserved in some way, rather than getting tossed out.

“We’re thrilled we pursued it,” Mike Sawyer said. “It has meaningful significance, and hopefully will wind up at the museum.”

Zablotny is happy, too. “I appreciate all the interest, as well as any effort to preserve and present it in an appropriate good location,” she wrote.

Updated to include more details. -Ed.