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Cow sculptures find their way to emigrant farmers

Antiques dealer discovers niche

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

DREMPT, the Netherlands - Fibreglass, lifesize sculptures of animals have dotted cityscapes all over the world for a number of years. Decorated cows first were seen in Zurich, Switzerland, and in Arnhem, the Netherlands as part of an art show, bulls came to the U.S. and in more recent days, orca’s - in a somewhat smaller size - can be seen in downtown Vancouver, Canada.

The sculptures often serve an artistic purpose, allowing artists to decorate them at will, and enliven downtown areas. The animal replicas usually have a link to the city displaying them, as is the case with the orca’s in Vancouver.

It didn’t take long for entrepreneurs like Drempt antiques dealer Albert Venema to latch on to the idea of making such sculptures commercially available. Although he deals in antiques and used furniture, clocks and paintings from his vast store in this village near the Gelderland town of Doesburg, Venema found a market for the fiberglass contemporary art as well. The scuptures now also serve as commercial signage for a variety of businesses or simply decorate yards.

In a country famed for its cows - Leeuwarden, the provincial capital of Friesland, has a bronze statue to a high-producing cow, dubbed ‘Us Mem’ or ‘Our Mother’ - the farm animals are disappearing from the fields, in part for economic reasons. Dairy farmers keep their herd closer to home or even in feedlots only. Venema’s novelty (others deal in such sculptures as well) can fill such a void.

The open landscape in the Netherlands sometimes is decorated with a still-life replica. The sight of the ’animals’ sometimes results in fast responses such as the time a driver slammed on his brakes thinking he spotted a runaway calf and cow when in fact he saw two sculptures in the yard of a retired farmer. One man in the vicinity is the only ‘owner’ for miles who had opted for the red-and-white (local MRIJ-breed) rather than the majority Holstein (FH) breed.

Rural sociologist Tjirk van der Ziel who received his Ph.D. from the Wageningen University, an institution specializing in agricultural studies, explains the fad by suggesting that some people who miss grazing cows in the fields, fill this void by putting up these substitutes. For many centuries, cows were the symbol of rural prosperity, as attested by the many 16th and 17th century paintings with the dairy animals. According to Van der Ziel, this symbol since has been etched on the Dutch collective mind. The desire to preserve this special relationship with the cow brings out efforts to maintain it as part of the familiar landscape, be it with replicas.

The fiberglass sculptures can be seen throughout the Netherlands and soon will decorate front yards of dairy operations in Canada owned by Dutch immigrants.

Mr. Venema in the meantime advertises the replica aspect of his antiques business by strategically placing a number of sculptures in front of his mansion-like store.

At about $600 each, the standing, lying or grazing cows are cheaper than the real animals, although their ‘yield’ is intangible just like art and advertising often is.