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Cattle call

• Under artists' hands, fiberglass bovines become cash cows for charities

Don't even ask why cows are funny. They just are.

They're kind of dopey looking, they get along well with everyone, mostly, and can be found just about everywhere in America.

'Cows are benign,' explained Malcolm Kuhn of Tigard. 'They don't hurt anybody and they moo. It's a very pleasant sound.'

Cows, however, have captured more than just our affection. They have become a remarkably fashionable artistic medium, far more trendy than chickens or pigs or any of your other barnyard animals. Cows are showing up as works of art in all the best places, including the streets of big American cities such as New York and Chicago.

And now Portland.

On Monday morning, Portland will wake up with 108 painted fiberglass cows on display throughout the city, many of them downtown. The 'Kows for Kids' exhibit, a product of the vision of local artists, will remain on display until summer when they will be sold at an auction that sponsors hope will generate $1 million for two charities.

Cows' mass-market appeal got a boost after 1998's Cows on Parade exhibit in Zurich, Switzerland. Other cities have tried other animals Ñ Seattle and pigs, for example Ñ but pigs didn't have as much to say artistically, Kuhn said.

Kows for Kids is a fund-raising project for two charities: New Avenues for Youth, which helps at-risk and homeless youth, and Trillium Family Services, serving children with serious emotional and mental ailments.

First, corporate sponsors ponied up $7,500 for each fiberglass cow. That money helped pay the expenses of the exhibition and a stipend for the artists. The cows were turned over to artists who produced a display brimming with whimsy, wordplay, history, politics and extraordinary colors.

And on Sunday night, under cover of darkness, volunteers from the Oregon Dairy Association will ferry the cows to their display stations around town where they will be anchored onto concrete slabs.

By next week, the project's Web site, www.kowsforkids.com, will have an updated directory showing where to find them. In addition, an advertising supplement in Tuesday's Portland Tribune will feature a cow walking map.

In addition, 113 'mini-moos' Ñ smaller cows designed by local school kids Ñ will be displayed at Pioneer Place downtown.

The payoff will come July 13 when the cows are scheduled to be auctioned at a dinner in the Global Aviation hangar at Hillsboro Airport. The auction prices probably won't match the average of $23,000 for each Chicago cow, said Pam Baker, a spokeswoman for the project. But Chicago is a bigger town and has always handled livestock well.

The artists found many ways to express their artistic vision, and there's no end to the cow puns. There are cows painted in the style of 'Pi-cow-sso' and 'Moo-tisse.' There are cows reading, playing basketball and sipping a cappuccino Ñ sorry, a 'kowpuccino.'

There's a cow on skis and one surfing in a wet suit. There's a shark-cow, a fish-cow, a cash cow and a cow pie. There are pink cows, green cows, yellow cows and red cows. One is dressed in the Stars and Stripes, another pays tribute to New York and one is covered in electronic circuits. Get it? Cow chips.

There's a cow adorned with a map of the route of the Lewis and Clark expedition and one dressed as Miss 'A-moo-ica,' standing on her back legs as a beauty pageant winner, complete with white gloves on her fore-hooves.

Rebecca Owen, an Oregon City painter and sculptor, called hers 'E-cow-logy,' two finely detailed wildlife scenes, with a forest and river vista on one side of the cow and an oceanside view on the other.

'It's been an honor,' she said, 'especially because it's going to a good cause.'

Contact Don Hamilton at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .