Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Even fiberglass cows need some doctoring

While strolling around the Capitol Square the night of the first Concert on the Square during the last week of June, I noted the absence of three of the Capitol CowParade cows I had seen earlier in the month: Bumper Cow, Miss Moolah and Cowtography. Bumper Cow was absent the longest after someone tried to make off with a side of fiberglass beef, only to abandon it a few blocks from its corner, causing damage that took weeks to repair.

It seems that a number of the decorated bovines have fallen prey to the disrespectful. I had no idea how bad it was, though sadly it honestly didn't surprise me. About 20 of the 101 cows have been damaged in some way since the start of the city-wide event. Though that is reportedly less vandelism than has befallen CowParade events in other cities, it's still far too much. Particularly when you consider there are only 101 cows here in Madison. That's 1/5 of them, my friends! Not a good percentage at all!

Recently over at Jennifer Jastrab's blog she mentioned that someone had broken off three pieces of her beautiful Old World cow's babushka. Several others have been tagged by graffiti, including Honey Bee Cowmb and Marbelized, and I noted horrible scuff marks on Sun in the Mornin' while at the last Concert on the Square a few weeks ago, as well as on a few other cows. Bumper Cow had several pieces broken off during its attempted heist and one hoof was cracked. Glinda the Good Witch Cow's wand was broken and the Wizard of Oz Cow's cane stolen.

While the vandelism in and of itself is disturbing, what makes it more maddening is the fact that these cows will be auctioned off at the end of the season, with proceeds going to local charities -- primarily the new children's hospital currently under construction. The better condition the cows are in come October, the more money they will raise.

What follows is a story from Monday's Wisconsin State Journal about this problem and the woman hired to clean and patch damaged cows.


Even fiberglass cows need some doctoring
By Doug Erickson

On the rump of one of the 101 fiberglass cows dotting the area as public art this summer, some loser has deemed it hilarious to spray paint a vulgarity involving the word bull.

Emily Gritt shakes her head.

"It's sad, very sad, but sort of funny how stupid they are," she says.

She gets out a sponge and some paint thinner. The graffiti vanishes with a few rubs.

"I love it when it comes off so easy," she says.

Gritt, 21, a UW-Madison senior and art education major, has one of the more unusual summer jobs.

She's "The Cow Doctor," the emergency responder who steps in to repair all the calamities and indignities that have befallen the stars of CowParade Wisconsin 2006.

The art event, which runs through Oct. 13, includes 97 costumed and whimsically decorated fiberglass cows placed throughout Madison, Sun Prairie and Fitchburg. Four additional cows are traveling the state.

Gritt is being paid $1,000 this summer by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, the event's sponsor, to jump in whenever a cow is damaged, which has been frustratingly often.

The milk marketing board plans to hire private security officers to guard the cows starting in a couple of weeks - a step it hoped to avoid, said Becky Kronberg, event manager for the CowParade at the board.

"We're getting a little nervous as college students head back to town that we'll see a spike in vandalism," she said.

About 20 cows have been harmed since June 3, Kronberg said. Three cows near the Kohl Center were tipped over. The Wizard of Oz cow lost its walking stick. A cow shaped like a bumper car - "Bumper Cow" - was stolen, then resurfaced a couple of blocks away, damaged but in one piece.

Kronberg said she's been told by officials with the CowParade Holdings Corp. that the level of vandalism in Madison has been less than other cities that have hosted CowParades. A company spokesperson couldn't be reached. Every city with a CowParade has also hired a cow doctor.

Still, it's disheartening, Kronberg said, because the ultimate goal is to raise money through an auction for the new American Family Children's Hospital in Madison. Damaged cows won't sell as well.

For Gritt, the vandalism has been personal. As an artist, she created two of the cows - the UW-Madison band cow ("Moo Rah Rah Wisconsin") by the Kohl Center and the cow that honors UW-Madison band director Michael Leckrone ("Mookal Leckrone") in front of the Humanities Building.

The Leckrone cow had its eyeglasses stolen within the first two days. The band cow was tipped over, and the plume was stolen from its hat.

"It's discouraging," Gritt said. "I did expect some vandalism, because these cows are more temporary than some public art. They excite more attention than something that will be there for years and years."

Gritt grew up wanting to be a large-animal veterinarian and figures this is about as close as she'll get. She goes cow to cow with a Radio Flyer wagon full of varnish, sandpaper, sponges, paint thinner, paint and paintbrushes.

"A lot of it is experimentation," she said, noting there's no handbook for cow doctors. She was offered the part-time position after coming to the attention of the milk marketing board through her artwork on two of the cows, she said.

Friday, she cleaned graffiti off four cows and patched holes on three. She also does more mundane tasks, such as washing off grunge and scuff marks.

She has no set hours - the vandals determine that. Some weeks she works just a few hours, other weeks a lot. Her other summer job as an activity director for Madison School & Community Recreation just ended.

The cows on State Street have been most in need of repair and upkeep because of the high foot traffic there, Gritt said. The hardest hit cows generally are those that have had extra parts added to them by the artists.

"Anything that's attached is kind of doomed," Gritt said. "People are going to grab at it."
Because she's being paid a lump sum, Gritt doesn't watch the clock. Some jobs take longer due to spectators, and that's just fine.

"It could be a half-hour job but it will take two hours because people want to just talk and talk and talk. It's really nice because you meet so many interesting people. They all want to tell you about their favorite cows."

1 comment:

Jana said...

It's awful that folks can't respect what isn't theres. Glad to know there's a doctor in the house. ;-)