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For the week of March 14 through 20, 2001

A Lab-arynth of Painted Pooches

Following in the footprints of cows, pigs … buffalo

"We wanted to join the community together on something positive, instead of berm heights and road issues. We wanted a sense of fun and joy."

Terry Tischer, animal activist

Express Staff Writer

The labs are on their way to town.

Large, painted fiberglass Labrador retrievers will be on public display from June to October all over the Wood River Valley. Painted by local artists, they will be sponsored by business and cultural organizations.

Mary Roberson with the first Sun Valley Lab, "Labitat," that she painted with wildlife portraits. Express photo by David N. Seelig

The idea germinated last year after news of Chicago’s and New York’s "Cows," Cincinnati’s "Pigs," and New Orleans’ "Fish" reached local animal activists Lyn Stallard and Terry Tischer. They felt dogs, and in this case Labradors, were a natural for the Sun Valley area.

"Labs are the most popular breed in the country and especially around here," Tischer said.

Add to that the legend that Averill Harriman, founder of the Sun Valley resort, was one of the people responsible for bringing Labrador retrievers to the United States and breeding them at his Arden Kennels for hunting in the early 1900s.

One of the cows from Chicago’s "Cows on Parade." Courtesy photo

Among the many synergized events will be a "Running of the Labs," in Ketchum, to kick off the five-month display. It promises to be somewhat of a parody of the "Running of the Sheep" event that occurs later in the fall, though much more fragrant.

Whether the labs will arrive parading down Main Street on flatbeds, carriages or on foot (paws?) has not yet been established, but the two intrepid partners are full of ideas.

"We love ideas," Tischer said. "We have tons of things in progress. Lyn brought this to me. I said, ‘We have to do this.’

"We wanted to join the community together on something positive, instead of berm heights and road issues. We wanted a sense of fun and joy."

Lyn Stallard started the Animal Shelter here nearly 30 years ago and Tishcer joined the shelter’s board two years ago. They recognized in each other a sister of ideas and action.

"Our two passions are animals. It was a natural event for us to do," Tischer said.

Scavenger hunts and contests will be held periodically during the summer.

Made in Los Angles, the Labs can be purchased for $3,000 each by a business or patron who then arranges to have it painted. The commission for an artist to paint will be set at $1,000. Some artists are planning on painting gratis or donating their fee back to the charities such as the Rescue Ranch, The Advocates for Survivors of Domestic Violence and the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley.

The labs will be auctioned off at a party in October. They’ll make great "patio pieces," Stallard said.

As Stallard and Tischer pointed out, this has the potential for bringing more visitors to the area. The patron and artist, Stallard said, are "buying six months of exposure and publicity."

The Lab action will heat up soon. On March 24, artist Lisa Holley will paint a Lab in the window of Sturtevants on Main Street in Ketchum.

It’s apparent that this is a rare merging of art and commerce. In Chicago for instance, well known local artists designed the cows and local businesses and cultural institutions sponsored them, What was overwhelming and somewhat unexpected was that in the cities, where the whimsical animals have been designed and displayed, there is a constant dialogue that takes place around them.

People who normally wouldn’t be caught dead talking about art have an opinion. Just the way total strangers strike up conversations about their dogs. This quirky campaign has engendered spontaneous public response in every city that has ventured into the animals-on-parade idea.

The consensus in other towns and cities, including Buffalo, N.Y., which had…yes, buffalo; Toronto which had moose; the Angels in Los Angeles; and herds of horses in both Scottsdale, Ariz., and Lexington, Ky., was that the fanciful animals seem to make visitors happy. And as wacky as it sounds, it gives locals and visitors something to talk about.

The cows came ready for puns and silly names and the Labs will be no exception. (One of the favorites was "Cow-hide," a bovine whose head was covered in a paper bag).

Already artist Mary Roberson has painted "Labitat"--- a play on the habitat paintings for which she is known. "Labitat" is going to Chicago to be displayed at the Lincoln Park Zoo in a display called City Critters.

While working on "Labitat" she became so attached that she took to speaking to it daily, dubbing it "Boy." Roberson has already decided to paint another Lab for the Sun Valley Labs event.

Other names and ideas that Stallard and Tischer have devised, mostly on their brainstorming hikes, are "Dental Lab," "Ce-Lab-rity," "Dear Labbie," "Lab-racadabra" and "Labotomy."

"Photo Lab" will be done by local photographer Steve Snyder, and the Tanning Service will have a "Lab Day Soliel." There are 10 labs spoken for so far, including one being done by San Francisco artist Jean Cromwell, called "Spike" which will be dressed rakishly in motorcycle leather.

Unlike the cows which had a plaque with name, sponsor and artist on it, the Sun Valley Labs will have large permanent dog tags hanging from their necks.

Anyone seeking information should contact Sun Valley Labs at 726-6688. Stallard and Tischer will be more than happy to talk you into sponsoring, painting or admiring their Labs. And if you happen to notice two human-size Labs walking around, one yellow and one black, it will be they, in their custom-made lab outfits. These ladies are hi-lab-rious.


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Copyright © 2001 Express Publishing Inc. All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited.