Updated: May. 13, 2024, 12:12 p.m. | Published: May. 11, 2024, 5:30 a.m.

By Tom Wrobleski | wrobleski@siadvance.com

Before-and-after photos show damage to sculpture on the beachfront at Lemon Creek Park in Prince’s Bay. (Tom Wrobleski/Staten Island Advance)

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. – It’s a mystery wrapped inside a whodunit.

An exotic piece of guerrilla artwork on the beachfront at Lemon Creek Park appears to have been vandalized.

But the question of how the mysterious sculpture came to be damaged has revealed a deeper puzzle: who created the unsanctioned artwork in the first place?

What remains of the sculpture, which to some resembled an Easter Island totem, can be found a short walk down a sandy path from the Lemon Creek Park parking lot at the end of Seguine Avenue in Prince’s Bay.

The sculpture, which included fierce fangs, penetrating eyes and a protruding tongue, looks to have been carved from an existing tree on the shoreline.

lemon creek totem
Guerrilla artwork at Lemon Creek Park as seen in 2023. (Tom Wrobleski/Staten Island Advance)

It’s not known when the sculpture was done, but the totem has been on the beachfront at Lemon Creek Park since at least 2017, when it was photographed by the Advance for a feature on the park.

It was also featured in an Advance/SILive.com story in 2023.

lemon creek totem
Sculpture at Lemon Creek Park is shown in a photo from 2017. (Jan Somma-Hammel/Staten Island Advance)

But the totem today bears little resemblance to the eye-catching work of art that it once was.

lemon creek totem
Exotic sculpture on the beach at Lemon Creek Park appears to have been damaged by vandals. (Tom Wrobleski/Staten Island Advance)

The sculpture’s distinctive and mesmerizing facial features appear to have been hacked or torn off and parts of the artwork appear to have been freshly burned. Chunks of the sculpture litter the sand around the totem.

lemon creek totem
Sculpture at Lemon Creek Park appears to have been burned and otherwise damaged by vandals. (Tom Wrobleski/Staten Island Advance)

The only recognizable piece of the totem that remains is a crown-like design at the top of the sculpture.

lemon creek totem
Pieces of sculpture litter the ground near waterfront artwork at Lemon Creek Park in Prince’s Bay. (Tom Wrobleski/Staten Island Advance)

Those familiar with the artwork believe that vandals are to blame for the damage.

“Only a bona fide a-hole would do something like this,” said City Councilman Joe Borelli (R-South Shore).

Borelli said he would take his children to view the sculpture and recalled meeting the artist doing maintenance on the piece at the beach in March of 2020.

lemon creek totem
Man identified only as Kevin is said to be the artist who created guerrilla artwork piece on the beach at Lemon Creek Park. (Photo courtesy of City Councilman Joe Borelli)

The artist, identified by Borelli only as Kevin, told the councilman that he was sanding and staining the artwork in order to get it ready for the coming summer.

Borelli said he hoped that the sculpture, which in an Instagram post he said was called “Mambo,” could be replaced.

lemon creek totem
Artist identified only as Kevin sands and varnishes his sculpture at Lemon Creek Park in 2020 as Joseph Borelli, son of City Councilman Joe Borelli (R-South Shore), looks on. (Photo courtesy of City Councilman Joe Borelli)

Staten Island artist Scott LoBaido was also familiar with the sculpture and said he had met the artist years ago but did not know the artist’s name.

“To destroy the tranquil, soothing work of this quiet genius breaks my heart,” LoBaido said. “I’ll be the first to chip in and buy him the supplies to do a new one.”

The Advance/SILive.com has been unable to locate the artist.

The city Parks Department told the Advance, “This carving is not an official piece of artwork in the City’s collection. It was installed without permission of Parks and we are unaware of who initiated it.”

Artwork that’s placed unannounced and anonymously in public locations or beyond art-sanctioned spaces is commonly called guerrilla art.

Fred Nattboy alerted the Advance to the damage that the sculpture had endured. He said he was “heartbroken” by the vandalism.

“I just can’t understand what goes on in the ‘minds’ of these so-called human beings when they are destroying someone’s work of love,” he said.

Said Nattboy, “It’s very sad and a sign of the times of how society views the arts and our natural environment too.”

Lorraine Davi, a registered nurse, visits Lemon Creek Park regularly on lunch breaks from her job at Staten Island University Hospital, Prince’s Bay.

She said the vandalism was “unnecessary.”

“We should enjoy our nice places and just relax,” she said.