Thursday, August 12, 1999

Making a silk purse from a cow's ear

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Alexander Longi wants pigs.

        He thinks they would be good for the local economy, tourism and our cultural life. A lot of people appear to agree with him, but I think he's the first to go on record with the idea. Certainly, he is the first 7-year-old to make a serious pitch.

        Alexander, whose current occupation is a second-grader at St. Gertrude's in Madeira, solemnly handed me a copy of the paperwork. Dated July 7, it was a proposal to the mayor of Cincinnati.

        “On a recent trip to Chicago,” he begins, “I saw an interesting event.”

        His description of the public display of 300 painted fiberglass cows, a collaboration between the city of Chicago and its artists and corporate citizens, is a model of clarity: “One cow was painted as Uncle Sam, another cow was tie-dyed, one was covered with geometrical shapes and one cow was painted with architectural drawings.”

        His mother, he says, helped him with the wording and in locating the proper spelling of Mayor Roxanne Qualls' name and the names of the other members of Cincinnati City Council, which he carefully copied.

        “My suggestion is to have local Cincinnati artists decorate pigs,” he wrote.

        Last week, I returned from Chicago in a similar swivet and made a nearly identical proposal to the readers of The Enquirer. But without Alexander's eloquence. Or his brevity. I droned on and on about the finances, an estimated $100 million in tourism and promotions.

        Alexander captured the magic. He calls it “a fun way to support local artists.”

        Fun. I forgot to mention the fun.

        Alexander didn't. And neither did caller Charlotte Schnitz of Montgomery. “We have a lot of things coming together downtown,” she said, “but we haven't turned the fun corner yet. Maybe this would do it.”

When Pigquita flies
        Former Cincinnatian Maureen Harvey of Chicago, one of about 50 readers who e-mailed supporting the project, suggests several corporate sponsorship ideas, including Pigquita, “a yellow one with a big fruit hat.”

        “How about one from the Contemporary Dance Theater? Martha GraHAM,” writes Taft High School assistant principal Helen Rindsberg.

        Judy Dominic wonders if “you can hear our squeals of delight.” She is chair of an international fiber conference called Convergence 2000, held by the Weavers Guild of Greater Cincinnati next June. “It would be an honor to dress a pig in fine, handwoven, fashion attire that would rival Miss Piggy herself. Let's get these little trotters moving and make a silk purse out of a cow's ear.”

        In case you haven't noticed, it is practically impossible not to make bad puns about pigs and cows. USA Today's headline for its story about the Chicago exhibit: “Udder insanity sends public over the moon.”

        Or as Cindy Graham of Woodlawn puts it, the pigs “will make your heart smile.”

        Alexander, who graciously agreed to meet me on short notice, finally glances at his watch. An appointment?

        “Well, I'm gong to ride bikes with Teddy.” Teddy, he says, thinks the idea of the painted pigs is cool. Or, actually, “Kul.”

        When Councilman Jim Tarbell told me what Alexander had done I was afraid the boy would be stuffy. A grown-up in a kid's body. Maybe wearing a little three-piece suit. I needn't have worried. He wore a T-shirt and shorts and he was playing basketball when I arrived.

        He is not what you might call a major arts patron. He went to the Twachtman exhibit at the Cincinnati Art Museum, and said his favorite part was the snack mix served downstairs. He thinks he'd come downtown to get his picture taken with a painted pig and “so would my friends.”

        That is the simple truth and the best reason of all.

        Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at