- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 30, 2002

Party animals come in all shapes and sizes, but the most popular ones in Washington tend to be elephants and donkeys. At the end of April, likenesses of the enduring symbols of this country's two major political parties will be seen at stragetic locations throughout the nation's capital.
The D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities has awarded grants to artists from the District and surrounding areas to decorate 100 donkey and 100 elephant sculptures. The organization hopes the imaginative designs will show the whimsical side of the nation's capital and promote tourism.
Established local artist Sam Gilliam, who is decorating an elephant for the project, says he is pleased that the Party Animal program gives artists an opportunity to contribute to the city.
"There are so many artists here dying to be known and dying to be recognized," Mr. Gilliam says. "Artists were elated that they will have a piece visible in the city."
Mr. Gilliam named his elephant "Seurat," after French impressionist painter Georges Seurat. In the style of Seurat, Mr. Gilliam designed the work with painted dots and ovals. He chose to work with an elephant rather than a donkey because an elephant is broader and more like a canvas than a donkey. Each of the polyurethane animals is about 4 feet tall and 5 feet long.
Chary Robbins, who is decorating a donkey, says the artwork is a way to bring the community together. The resident of Buffalo, N.Y., is staying with her sister to work on her piece.
Because she has painted the animal colbalt blue and covered it with pieces of shattered mirror in a mosaic design, Ms. Robbins has named her piece "Blue Reflections."
"I didn't have an intent to have blue in the meaning of sadness, but people looking into the donkey and seeing reflections of themselves and the sky and the city behind them," she says. "I took it out of the political. I didn't want a political tie to it."
Artist Steve Koczara of Potomac Falls titled his donkey "Perseverance" to symbolize how people need to keep going despite challenges. His work is mostly red and has a lot of texture to reflect the aggressive attitude one needs to overcome obstacles.
"It came out of the struggles of life and the change in the world that's going on around," Mr. Koczara says. "The work is a bit more abstract than literal."
Lou Stovall, an artist and vice chairman of the arts commission, says he hopes the program inspires and educates. He expects Washingtonians and people from outside communities to flock to see the sculptures.
"This is going to be the nicest thing that ever happened to Washington," Mr. Stovall says. "I think they're fabulously done."
The molds of the donkeys and elephants originated with Tivoli Too in St. Paul, Minn. The company made the creatures of urethane resins. After the artists design them using acrylic paints, Tivoli Too will send its staff to coat the statues with waterproofing and ultraviolet protection.
One of Mr. Stovall's favorite examples of the artists' work is "Two Tails of a City" by Leni Stern of Northwest and Louise Sagalyn of Georgetown.
The artists used various bumper stickers and campaign buttons to decorate their sculptures and tied their tails together.
Lisa Farrell, who works for the National Gallery of Art, used the theme of Edward Hicks' painting "The Peaceable Kingdom," Mr. Stovall says.
The idea depicted on her elephant comes from the book of Isaiah in the Bible, interpreted by Christianity as a prophecy of the coming of Christ and the beginning of a peaceful world in which all creatures live in harmony.
"She's painting animals who do not co-exist together well," Mr. Stovall says. "The lion is lying down with the lamb."
Mr. Stovall's wife, Di, is illustrating the song "America the Beautiful" on an elephant.
Scenes celebrated in the lyrics, such as "spacious skies," "purple mountains," "waves of grain" and "fruited plains," come to life on the sculpture.
Mrs. Stovall says few people are aware of the fourth verse, which describes "alabaster cities." Although the lyric doesn't specifically mention Washington, Mrs. Stovall associated the phrase with the white buildings in Washington for her design.
"I've always loved this song," she says. "It has to do with the beauty of the country."
Tony Gittens, executive director of the arts commission, says the organization was inspired by the program Cows on Parade, which displayed about 250 decorated cows in Chicago about two years ago.
He says other cities have joined in the creativity, including Baltimore with fish; Los Angeles with angels; New York City with cows; Charlotte, N.C., with rocking chairs; Augusta, Ga., with golf balls; Cincinnati with pigs; and St. Paul with Charlie Brown figures. Norfolk used mermaids.
Next to the donkeys and elephants, pandas were the second-most-popular option for the District, Mr. Gittens says.
The commission received more than 1,000 applications from artists who wanted to participate in the campaign.
"The idea was to have large sculptures of animals that are identifiable with your city," Mr. Gittens says. "We tend to take ourselves a bit too seriously. We thought this would be a way to poke fun at ourselves."
With a budget of about $600,000, he expects the spirit of the program to pervade the Washington area. The sculptures will be on display until about September, when they are to be sold at an auction, to be called thmoney going toward arts education and grant programs.
"These have been some tough months for not only our city, but our country," Mr. Gittens says.
"We are hoping that people will see these and that they will bring smiles to their faces."


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