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Fresno metal giraffes spark recollection of giraffe pair carved in Sahara sandstone 6,000 years ago

Giraffe petroglyphs are carved in sandstone north of the city of Agadez in Niger, in the Aïr Mountains of the Sahara Desert. The striking, life-sized Dabous Giraffes are thought to have been carved into a sandstone outcropping some 6,000 years ago.
Giraffe petroglyphs are carved in sandstone north of the city of Agadez in Niger, in the Aïr Mountains of the Sahara Desert. The striking, life-sized Dabous Giraffes are thought to have been carved into a sandstone outcropping some 6,000 years ago. Special to The Bee

Q: After seeing the metal giraffe sculptures in the Feb. 26 column, I hope you can help me find information about a photo of a rock carving of giraffes I once saw. I have collected giraffe art for more than 50 years and just love the majestic and tall animals.

Rosanne Balison, Fresno

A: The giraffe petroglyphs you recall are the famous Dabous Giraffes carved in sandstone north of the city of Agadez in Niger, in the Aïr Mountains of the Sahara Desert.

They are carved on a “gently sloping rock face known as Dabous Rock,” according to a National Public Radio story. The pair of life-sized giraffes – the tallest measures nearly 20 feet – represent a male and female. “The couple faces left, the female behind the male, as if following her mate across the desert,” the story said. “At certain times of the day, when the sun is low in the sky, the dramatic shadows form on the red sandstone, displaying the mighty figures to their best advantage.”

The giraffes are generally thought to be about 6,000 years old and would have been created at a time when the climate in the Sahara was wetter and more verdant than today, supporting a rich array of wildlife.

More than 800 smaller carvings of animals and humans are also found in the area, but “these particular giraffes are thought to be unique in their subject matter, style and scale,” the story said.

The carvings have been damaged by nature and vandalized. Casts were made of the giraffes in 1999. One was given to the city of Agadez. Another belongs to the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C.

Q: Do you have any information about the Al Harkins Orchestra? He and his orchestra played for the local and California State Dairy Princess competitions held at the Hacienda hotel in Fresno in the 1970s. I’d love to know more about them.

Kathi Gulley, Riverdale

A: Allen Lloyd Harkins was the band director at Madera High School when he formed a 12-piece band in about 1964 “as a hobby for the enjoyment of the members,” according to a 1979 Fresno Bee story. “I don’t know whether it’s a cycle or the big band sound is coming back,” Harkins said. “It’s not so much a nostalgia thing, but my desire to keep the music alive.”

In addition to the Dairy Princess competitions, Harkins’ band played “the big band sound at conventions, shows and parties throughout the San Joaquin Valley,” the story noted. One of those events was the 1973 Women’s Symphony League Pops Party “Holiday for Strings” at the Sheraton Inn in Fresno.

In 1949, Harkins was hired to teach math at Madera High but soon became the school’s band director. The band increased from 30 members to 100 under his leadership and became known as “the show band of the Valley.” In 1965 the Madera High band was invited to play at President Lyndon B. Johnson’s inauguration, but “a lack of funds prevented the band from making the trip,” a 1971 Bee story said.

Harkins retired in 1971. “It was with mixed feelings, but partly because of his health, that Harkins decided to retire,” The Bee story said. “Band directing is a hard life,” Harkins said. “In lots of ways it’s like being a coach. As long as the band is popular with the public, you’re a winner.”

Harkins was feted at a dinner party hosted by friends and honored by the Madera County Board of Supervisors when he retired.

After retirement, Harkins taught at Fresno State for 10 years. He also arranged marching band music for Fresno State, Fresno City College, College of the Sequoias, then-Bakersfield College and Oklahoma State University.

Harkins was a native of Fresno. At the University of the Pacific he changed his focus from engineering to music and said he never regretted switching his major.

More about: After an answer about a pathology lab and early blood bank once located in a Van Ness Avenue house was published on March 12, Donna Mott of Fresno wrote about her stepfather’s connection to the Central California Blood Bank that began on Amador Street in 1955.

Mott said her stepfather, Harlan Poole, helped build shelves for the new blood bank. He was a pilot and flew blood supplies from the new blood bank around the Valley. Newspaper photos of the time show Poole loading and delivering refrigerated boxes of blood to Valley hospitals.

An undated Merced Sun-Star story about one of Poole’s deliveries began, “ ‘There they are,’ said the white-gowned laboratory technician as the green-and-yellow Piper Tri-Pacer taxied down the Merced Airport runway after completing a neat three-point landing.” A photo caption with the story identifies Poole as shipping director for the blood bank.

Ask Me publishes on the second and fourth Sundays of each month. Paula Lloyd is a freelance writer. Send questions to askpaulalloyd@yahoo.com or by mail to Paula Lloyd, c/o The Fresno Bee Newsroom, 1626 E St., Fresno CA 93786. Please include your name, city of residence and a phone number.

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