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Bovines beautify Beaufort

Photo by Richard Rodriguez
The Accidental Tourist cow greets visitors at the Beaufort Visitors Center.

By Linda Sickler
(from the 5/12/00 issue)

You say you've never seen a purple cow? Don't worry, we can fix that. Just check out the Bovine Public Art Project in Beaufort, S.C., and you'll see 27 cows in a variety of shades and tints.

The cows hail from Chicago, where they lined Michigan Avenue last summer as part of a public art project called "Cows on Parade." The Art Cows, as they were called, are life-sized plaster cows painted and otherwise decorated by notable artists.

So how did some Chicago cows end up in Beaufort? Believe it or not, these are "Cows on Vacation."

Eric Holowacz, director of the Arts Council of Beaufort, knew that Beaufort would be the perfect place for a bovine vacation. He heard about "Cows on Parade" from people who had visited Chicago.

"Chicago took the idea from Zurich, Switzerland, and decided to put 320 Art Cows all over," Holowacz said. "The wonder and excitement spread all over the place."

Angela Marterer, a former staffer with the arts council, had seen the display. "Everyone who saw them felt there was some kind of magic in the cows," Holowacz said.

Wanting to launch a public arts program in Beaufort, Holowacz began writing letters. One went to Lois Weisberg, Chicago's commissioner of cultural affairs, and others went to organizers of "Cows on Parade."

"I wrote that we have a small community with a lot of artists and art education, but we don't have public art," Holowacz said. "I suggested that maybe the cows could eventually take a vacation to Beaufort. I thought we could put out 10 to 20 cows and hopefully have that same kind of magic the cows brought to Chicago."

At first, the response was disppointing. "One of the chairmen liked the idea, but said I would have to contact the owners," Horowacz said. "He sent a list of close to 200 names."

With the help of office intern Jessica Stewart, Holowacz sent out 170 packets of information about Beaufort. He asked the owners if they would be willing to lend their cows for an exhibition.

"By early December, I had about a dozen owners call and say yes," Holowacz said. "A lot of people said the cows had been sold at an auction and now were owned by someone else. Some we never heard from."

But it was a start. Now Holowacz had to find a feasible way to bring the cows to Beaufort on a limited budget. "The logistics seemed impossible," he said.

The staff at the arts council is small and has a heavy load of duties. "We have a small grants program, a chamber music program, we provide professional development for our constituents, we promote cultural events, and we have Arts in the Parks," Holowacz said.

Holowacz reluctantly decided to let "Cows on Vacation" simmer on the back burner. "Then I got a letter from Lois Weisberg," he said.

"She said 'Cows on Parade' had been very successful and there had been requests from hundreds of different places. But the last paragraph said she was going to try to help us, so there was a glimmer of hope."

Holowacz contacted Beaufort Mayor Bill Rauch, who wrote a letter to Chicago saying that the city supported the program. "I wrote another letter and sent information about Beaufort," Holowacz said.

Within a month, Holowacz heard from the head of the Chicago Public Art Program. "He said, 'The commissioner wants to do this. How many cows and when?" Holowacz said.

"From then on, it was a partnership between the small town of Beaufort and the big metropolitan city of Chicago. I went out and contacted as many sponsors as I could and made a budget of $20,000 to cover shipping, insurance and publicity."

Joe Golden, president of the arts council board, was supportive of the project from the beginning. "He said it was a great idea and got the entire board to agree," Holowacz said.

Within six months, there were enough sponsors to bring on the cows. "It involved hundreds of people in the community," Holowacz said.

The cows arrived last month and can be seen through early July. "They came in one giant moving truck with four public arts staff people from Chicago," Holowacz said. "With the help of the community, we installed the cows. It took the weekend and a few days."

The cows actually are ambassadors that represent the city of Chicago, Holowacz said. "They tried to select a small herd that was representative of the total project," he said.

"There are different styles of cows, and an age range of artists from school children to well-known painters. There are historic cows, cows with religious themes and modern art, Picasso cows."

The cows have been placed around Beaufort and nearby Port Royal. Maps are available at the arts council office, which is located in the University of South Carolina at Beaufort Performing Arts Center.

Some cows were placed where they would be most comfortable. For example, HannuKow is at the Beth Israel Synagogue, and Out of Cowtowner is at the entrance to the Waterfront Park street entrance.

The cow named Accidental Tourist can be seen at the Beaufort Visitors Center, and Guernsica can be seen at the Beaufort County Library, which has a Web site that features the cows. Esther, the Beach Blanket Bovine, is at the Hunting Island Visitors Center and Uncle Sam Cow is at Parris Island.

The city of Beaufort was given its own cow, which has been named Cowolina. The plain, plaster cow will be painted by various artists and groups and displayed at different locations throughout the area.

The magic that infused Chicago can be felt in Beaufort. "I've seen kids, grandmothers, tourists with cameras, teachers with classes looking at the cows," Holowacz said. "Even though they are silly and definitely not high art, they have a power and energy about them."

As result of the project, Beaufort has forged a link with Chicago that Holowacz believes will lead to further projects. On Monday, Beaufort was visited by Weisberg, who was accompanied by none other than Chicago Mayor Richard A. Daley.

"It's just been a tremendous thing and we're only in the first couple weeks of it," Holowacz said. "The next phase is to tell as many people as possible so they can come see the cows."


Linda Sickler can be reached at 525-5500 or by e-mail to

Photo by Richard Rodriguez
Guernsica is one of two cows that can be seen at the Beaufort County Library.


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