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Cow Parade Sculpture By Hartford Artist Sells For Record $150,000 To Luci Baines Johnson

Janice Podsada

November 18, 2011

Forget what the economists say it's a bull market. At least it was in Austin, Texas this week when former First Daughter Luci Baines Johnson paid $150,000 for "Penny Bull," a life-size sculpture of a longhorn steer at the auction following the city's Cow Parade.

It was the highest price ever paid for a Cow Parade sculpture and it was made by Hartford artist Tao Labossiere. The one-of-a-kind art cows fetch about $7,500 each at auction, on average.

Labossiere's cash cow is adorned with 10,000 pennies, glued to a life-size sculpture of a longhorn steer. The idea to create this "penny stock" came from Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Vince Young, who wanted it for his Austin restaurant. Young later donated it to the Cow Parade exhibit and auction.

"I actually started with 11,000 pennies, but I screwed up about 1,000," said Labossiere, who quickly discovered that attaching pennies to a curved sculpture was no easy feat.

"You think you could just glue it on the cow, but each penny had to be custom bent," said Laboissiere, who spent three months working on the bull in a Bloomfield warehouse owned by CowParade Holdings Corp. The 100-pound, plain white Fiberglass steer grew to 400 pounds as "Penny Bull."

Labossiere has created about 40 cows for West Hartford-based CowParade Holdings in the last 10 years, said Jerry Elbaum, who founded the company in 1999. "Tao is one of the most accomplished artists we have come across in the world," Elbaum said.

CowParade, which Elbaum founded in 1999, sells the licensing rights to hold a cow parade to a host city. The locals take it from there, recruiting businesses and foundations to sponsor a "cow" for several thousand dollars, allowing them to choose an artist to create their cow.

When the event concludes, cows are sold at auction to raise money for charity. Austin's CowParade auction, which featured 80 cows 60 of which went to auction, raised $1.5 million for the Dell Children's Medical Center of central Texas.

CowParade bills itself as "the largest and most successful public art event in the world," with more than 50 events and counting. Among artists making cows have been peter Max, LeRoy Neiman and Kate Spade, the CowParade web site said.

The "cows" are available in two designs seated and standing. Laboissiere opted for the standing cow, but then drastically altered its form. A cow is a cow is a female cow, and "Penny Bull" required hefty applications of bondo, a fiberglass and polyester compound, to create the longhorn's 57-inch horns and masculine appearance

"I removed the udders and installed steal armature to build up the shoulders," Laboissiere said. And the pennies, $100 worth, are attached both heads-up and tails-up. "I put them on randomly," he said.

Elbaum said he was told that Penny Bull may be installed at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum in Austin.

As for Young, he donated the work under the condition that Labossiere make another one which the artist is now doing. Unfortunately for Labossiere, his take is far less than the $150,000 price tag of the first version.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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