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Holy Batcow!

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Pentagram partner DJ Stout seems to have a thing for cows. “I’ve redesigned two dairy magazines and a beef magazine, I did an annual issue at Texas Monthly called “Bum Steers” for 13 years, and I have large framed photographs of cows displayed on the walls of our office,” says Stout. “Somehow the benevolent bovine has become a major part of my design repertoire.”

Now Stout and designer Stu Taylor in Pentagram’s Austin office, with the help of three-dimensional artist Faith Schexnayder, have created Batcow, currently hanging from the Congress Avenue Bridge, home of the world’s largest urban bat colony. Batcow is a part of the Austin CowParade, a temporary art exhibition raising money for the local SuperHero Kids fund of the Children’s Blood and Cancer Center of Dell Children’s Medical Center.

The first CowParade exhibit was staged in Chicago in 1999, followed by New York City the next year. Since then CowParade has become the largest and most recognized public art event in the world. To date, CowParade events have been held in 75 cities in 30 countries and have produced more than 5,000 of the signature cow canvases by local artists. “When I was invited to create a piece for the CowParade I wanted to do more than just paint the side of the standard issue fiberglass cow,” says Stout. “I wanted to do something that was a bit different but also unique to Austin.” The Congress Avenue Bridge which crosses over Lady Bird Lake (the dammed up Colorado River) in the heart of downtown Austin, is the home of approximately 1.5 million Mexican Free-tailed bats who migrate to the bridge during the summer months. Since Austin’s human population is about 750,000, there are more bats than people in Austin. The bat has become a symbol of the city. “We even had a hockey team called the Ice Bats for a while,” says Stout.

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When engineers reconstructed the Congress Avenue Bridge in 1980 (now called the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge) they had no idea that the deep fissures that were created beneath the road deck of the bridge would become ideal bat habitat. The new burgeoning bat population became headline news. Reacting in fear and ignorance many people petitioned to have the bat colony eradicated. About that time a “Batman” named Merlin Tuttle stepped in and convinced the city and its populace that bats are gentle and incredibly sophisticated animals; that bat-watchers have nothing to fear if they don’t try to handle bats; and that on the nightly flights out from under the bridge, the Austin bats eat from 10,000 to 20,000 pounds of mosquitoes and other insects. The nightly emergence of the bats from underneath the bridge at dusk, and their flight across Lady Bird Lake to feed themselves, now attracts as many as 100,000 tourists annually.

Batcow, folded up in her own wings constructed of metal rebar, fiberglass and mesh, hangs upside down from the center arch of the bridge in the middle of the river and is only visible from a distance or from a boat on the water. The majority of the other cows are positioned on street corners and in front of buildings around the city where people can pose for pictures with the life-sized bovines. “I like the guerrilla art aspect of our entry.” says Stout. “When we first submitted our concept we didn’t hear from the CowParade folks for months. I thought for sure that it was thrown out because of how different it was. The city actually said no at first but then they came around. I think that public art can be fun and memorable and people are really reacting positively to the Batcow.” It’s interesting to note that Stout and New York partner Michael Bierut created an oversized blue horse named Big Lexfor the city of Lexington, Kentucky, in 2010.

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The Batcow will hang around until the end of October when it will be auctioned off at a CowParade gala. On Thursday, October 20, Pentagram Austin will host a Batcow fundraising event on a party boat in the middle of Lady Bird Lake. Official Batcow T-shirts and other paraphernalia will be given away at the event for donations. All proceeds will benefit Bat Conservation International.


Batcow swings beneath the Congress Avenue Bridge.

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