Incredible fossil ‘discovery’ draws the curious to Sebastopol

So far, no scientific journals, National Geographic, the History Channel nor even leading YouTube and TikTok scientific conspiracy theorists have made their way to Sebastopol to examine the perfectly intact fossil.|

Megla Bufa Giganticus Spoof Exhibition

Where: Rabbit Hole (Art Gallery) Research Institute and Museum, 2836 Gravenstein Highway S., Sebastopol

Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, through Nov. 18

Farewell celebration: 3-10 p.m. Nov. 18 with live music and objects and art from the exhibit for sale

Information: samroloff.com and markgrieve.com

A mysterious fossil of a heretofore unrecorded species of giant toad is drawing the curious to a Sebastopol art studio where the “bones,” perfectly embedded in the floor, are conjuring wonder and many more questions than answers.

But that hasn’t stopped scientific speculation by lay researchers Mark Grieve and Sam Roloff. The two claim they not only have “discovered” a new creature, but that the massive amphibian has been living among us for eons, appearing unnoticed in myth, folklore, art and music right under our noses. How could it be that the world somehow mistook the Mega Toads for merely toadish humans, many of whom have silently made a major webbed imprint on our history and culture?

As Grieve, an artist, tells it, it all started a few months ago.

“I found myself for a period of time between jobs. Sam and I have been hanging out for about three-and-a-half years, and I’m an admirer of his paintings. He knows I have the curse of being handy. So he came to me and said, ‘Hey, my floor is a little squishy here. Would you mind taking a look at it?’”

Grieve didn’t have to dig more than a few inches before he struck archaeological gold, a hard object that would turn out to be a shocking discovery with the potential to rock the world of herpetology. If you don’t believe it, just check out their YouTube video.

“We took a look at it and that’s when we realized, we discovered something. And it’s when we realized that archaeology is going to be our life,” Grieve told a visitor. “After we did our excavations and realized what we had, we knew we had to do further subjective research in order to verify our claim of this discovery that Megla Bufo Giaganticus (common name giant toad) has lived with us and amongst us for millennia.”

So far, no scientific journals, National Geographic, the History Channel nor even leading YouTube and TikTok scientific conspiracy theorists have made their way to Sebastopol to examine the perfectly intact fossil.

Undeterred, Grieve and Roloff decided, after thousands of hours of “extensive research” online and beyond for about two months, that they had uncovered enough information on their own to break with mainstream science and mount an exhibit outlining their astounding findings.

“It’s pretty incredible,” Grieve said. It’s a word he throws around over and over. That and “unbelievable.” Consider it code.

“It’s uncanny. It’s unbelievable. That’s what a big part of this show is really. The more evidence we gathered, the more unbelievable and blown away we were about how far this came down,“ Grieve said.

Since the discovery, Roloff’s Rabbit Hole Art Gallery and Studio on Gravenstein Highway has been temporarily transformed into the Rabbit Hole Research Institute and Museum, dedicated to one thing only — the study of Megla Bufo Giganticus.

“It’s all been a mystery,” Grieve said in amazement. “We have brought this show together to get to the bottom of it and find the truth.”

Conceptual art spoof

Of course, there is no bottom to get to. It’s all in jest, a conceptual art project that kept Grieve and Roloff in stitches for several months as they fabricated research, concocted theories, spun fantastic tales and created the evidence to support their “findings” in a series of paintings, photographs and other artifacts they created.

Doing most of their research “on the internet,” where most cockeyed theories proliferate, they’ve amassed bogus artifacts beginning with petroglyphs showing evidence of gigantic toads etched in stone.

“When Mark came up with the idea I thought, that’s good. It’s so off the normal beat. What’s nice about this is it’s a fresh idea. It’s not just rehashing the same old thing,” Roloff said. “It was a blast doing it.”

Roloff contributed several paintings done in classical style, including one depicting the “Return of the Giant Toad,” a work by cartographer Rodrigo Francisco found on the old Hop-a-Long Ranch in Sebastopol. The painting shows the fossilized toad in real life, bathed in ethereal light and returning triumphantly to the North Coast after a voyage abroad.

The pair would bounce ideas off each other and riff as they came up with ever-more outlandish evidence that giant toads/frogs (they use the terms interchangeably) exist.

There’s the portrait of Red Froggy and Wilma Pond, childhood sweethearts who went on to form “one of the greatest little-known musical partnerships of the 20th century” with hits such as “My Hopping Green Love” and “Giving Birth to The Bog Sound,” which experienced a brief revival in 1972 with the release of their ballad “I Only Have Flies for You,” covered by Roberta Flack.

Dreaming up the myths and stories was more than half the fun.

They concocted evidence of the creature’s existence cropping up all over the world — as a Tibetan monk, a heroic ship’s captain, and a Minoan swamp goddess.

The exhibit spoofs the amateur scientific conspiracy theorists roaming the internet and YouTube who come up with wild claims and shaky evidence to support them.

Each piece has a descriptive panel which they composed with the help of Roloff’s teenage son Henry. Several other artists also contributed pieces to the exhibit.

Serious artists

Both men are serious artists and fellow alumni of the San Francisco Art Institute. Grieve works in several media but is widely known for his large public art sculptures using found materials. His works include the 65-foot obelisk on Santa Rosa Avenue made of discarded bicycle parts called “Cyclisk” and a stainless-steel, aluminum and concrete arch in Sacramento’s North Natomas Regional Park.

Roloff, who lives in Occidental, is a painter and printmaker. His digital media piece, “The Rise of the Yellow Vests Act 23: The Burning of Notre Dame,” was selected for the current “de Young Open 2023,” a juried collection of pieces by Bay Area artists. He was one of 900 artists selected out of 7,776 submissions.

His piece is a study in the collapse of society and, as he puts it, how “the revolutionary spirit is a necessary ingredient for the human experience.” It’s a play on the populist protesters in France who rose up like an army in yellow safety vests to oppose rising fuel prices.

The diminutive artist with the distinctive round black glasses is the younger brother of Matt Roloff, who has starred in the TLC reality series “Little People, Big World,” for 17 years. Both brothers, who were raised in the East Bay and lived for a short time in Penngrove, were born with diastrophic dysplasia, a disorder of cartilage and bone development that causes dwarfism.

“Being a handicapped dwarf who uses crutches to walk offered up a unique outlook on the expression of art. My paintings often deal with beauty and the struggle of life, and this is cultivated into a fine wine if you will,” he explained in a letter of introduction to the de Young Museum.

Nonetheless, Roloff shares a playful humor with his buddy Grieve and is outgoing with a predilection to look on the upside.

“It always, in a sense, carved me out as a little different from regular society,” Roloff said of his condition. “Like you lived in a different world than everyone else. It helped me do my own thing and have my own voice. Often the thing with art is to find your style and your voice.”

Playing a part

With their latest collaboration the pair are playing it for laughs with, as they say, “a whimsical look at people’s perception of what they believe as true.”

As Grieve explains on the Rabbit Hole website, “I enjoy playing with the nature of fact, myth and conspiracy. It’s like holding up a mirror to society.”

One or the other artist will greet visitors and stay in character as people make a beeline for the phony fossil Grieve crafted from baking soda and cornstarch clay and fired in a toaster oven. Then visitors will bypass the absurd paintings and Photoshopped photos of famous and not-so-famous giant toads like Antoni Montovini, the great Italian baritone performing “Lilies in the Pond” and looking suspiciously amphibian-like with a piece of “authentic” sheet music showing the lowest note ever recorded.

It may take awhile before it dawns on visitors that the whole thing is a joke, but most inevitably figure it out, at least by the time they enter the one-room studio where Roloff paints and sells his work. The exhibit is laid out like a real museum, including the requisite map to different wings “to give it a little gravitas,” as Roloff puts it.

“What we’re in a sense making fun of are these people on YouTube, where they make these crazy connections like the giants from Tatarria or whatever. And here’s all our evidence, or who shot JFK and they have their own evidence,” Roloff said. “It’s a huge movement going on that we’re poking fun at, with something so extreme and so funny as a frog that it’s not a political thing.”

Roloff loves art history and said his work is fueled by his fascination with how art can influence current events. In this case, however, the bogus event is fueling the art.

Grieve said they really don’t want to fool people as much as they want to provoke reflection about people’s gullibility — both humorous and disturbing — in the face of junk science, disinformation and “alternative facts.”.

“It’s very scary, and that’s why we have to poke fun at it,” Grieve said. “But we had to frame it properly or it won’t be seen. We wanted to play this game, but we didn’t want to play on people’s vulnerabilities. We didn’t want to be exploitative or to push an agenda.”

The public can check out their discovery 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. There’s a farewell celebration to mark the exhibit closing from 3-10 p.m. Nov. 18, with live music and a chance to buy pieces from the exhibit.

The artists figured that if they built their spoof around a toad, the humor would be obvious and no one would take offense.

“It’s difficult to find something in the midst of everything that you can play with and actually say something,” Grieve said. “When you get down to it, that’s what the show is about — the blending of imagination and fact and how it’s affecting all of us.”

Stafff Writer Meg McConahey can be reached at meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com.

Megla Bufa Giganticus Spoof Exhibition

Where: Rabbit Hole (Art Gallery) Research Institute and Museum, 2836 Gravenstein Highway S., Sebastopol

Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, through Nov. 18

Farewell celebration: 3-10 p.m. Nov. 18 with live music and objects and art from the exhibit for sale

Information: samroloff.com and markgrieve.com

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:
  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.