Thursday, August 21, 2008


"Jersey" (colored pencil drawing)

          Many people ask how a city dweller ever became interested in cows. I was never quite sure why my life took that turn, but I had a few clues.
          In the 1950’s my family spent a week on a dairy farm. Within thirty minutes of our arrival, I tramped into a fresh cow pie, ruining new sneakers, but after we helped with the milking for an entire week, I had gained respect for the dairy-farming family and the cows they nurtured.
          Before the end of the week, two newborn calves were named after my sister and me. For years, I thought that was the birth of my interest in bovines, although my curiosity was augmented by a two year stint as a teacher in a cattle region in northeastern Brazil. Years later, I read that cows were popular among city folk because we experience a collective guilt for the loss of our agrarian pasts.
          My overt passion for cows came after I purchased a cow item for my home. When friends asked why, I mentioned that I thought cows were rather enigmatic. They were large animals, yet not aggressive predators, they seemed to be thinking about something important while in a state of semiconsciousness. As an artist, I liked the graphic quality of Holsteins, but admitted to a particular fondness for doe-eyed Jerseys.
          With the help of friends and family, soon I was overwhelmed with over 1000 cow items grazing in my home. After moving from the city to a semi-rural area, I passed herds of cattle in every direction within a mile of my home. I was in cow heaven.

"MOOlah" (mixed media, ink, colored pencils, with digital enhancement)
          Soon I was creating cow art ---what I call visual puns. One of my first cow drawings was “MOOlah” a cow created by hand drawing dollar bills, using a magnifying glass to see the details on a real dollar.

"Stampede" (collage made entirely
from postage stamps with
 cow or dairy-related images)
          I created "Jersey," "Stampede," “A Line of Bull,” “COWllage,” “Beautiful Creamer,” “It’s Only a Paper MOO,” “emBOSSIE,” and “Blue MOO"---a total of fifty pieces for a solo exhibit entitled “The Bovine Comedy.” My cow work has been been purchased by Quanta Press in MN, as well as by individual collectors, and has been featured at a national cow-art show in NY State as well as local and regional exhibits.
          I kept asking myself why, if there were magazines like Cat Fancy, no one had published something for cow lovers. Finally I decided to do it myself. In the Fall of 1989, with only six subscribers, I published the first issue of the MOOsletter, the cow lovers’ quarterly ---featuring ‘all the MOOs that’s fit to print!’
          Up to that point, I knew little about cows. On a local dairy tour, a local farmer told me that I stuck out like a ‘rookie.’ “Why?” I asked. It was because I was taking photographs of the cows’ faces, while the real farmers were inspecting the ‘business end’ of the cows.
          I filled the MOOsletter with a mix of serious and humorous articles, making use of every imaginable cow pun. After a year of publication, I was rather knowledgeable about cows ---I could identify dozens of breeds, had learned terms like freshen, fodder, AI, and BGH, and could name the first cow to ever fly in an airplane.
          Over the years, the MOOsletter explored rotation grazing, alternative bedding materials, cow flatulence, miniature Herefords, dairy recipes, “sacred” cows in India, hoof trimmers, free-stall barns, farm museums, bovine diseases, and cattle auctions. We discussed cow postcards, cream separators, milk bottle collecting, cow creamers, cheese labels, and cow cookie jars and published several editions of a Cow-Buying Guide for collectors. We featured COWntests, bovine poetry, and cow fiction. Humorist Dave Barry granted permission to reprint two of his articles and we reproduced an excerpt from Mark Twain’s story in which Eve (of Biblical fame) discovers how milk gets into a cow.
          Best of all, I met ---either in person or through the mail ---hundreds of cow lovers like myself. At one time we had amassed over 500 subscribers in fifty states and a dozen foreign countries. Among subscribers were the Johnsons, long-time NY dairy farmers and Michele and Ed, also from NY, who argued good-naturedly over shelf space to display their cow-creamer and milk-bottle collections. Ruth in MN grew up winning ribbons with her 4-H calves and later claimed to have the world’s largest collection of cow paraphernalia, although Mrs. Moo from AZ, followed close behind. Mrs. Moo’s entire home was decorated in white with black spots and she wore cow clothing everywhere ---even to church. Nancy in MD wrote us often about her pet steer named Baby and a CA woman photographed her cow Pumpkin in wigs, hats, and costumes. An elderly PA woman contributed cow poetry. An IL man kept us up-to-date on Elsie collectibles. Fred from HI admitted the only cow item he had ever owned was a bottle of Elmer’s Glue, yet he sent us hundreds of news items about cows. Our ‘celebrity’ subscribers were Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry’s and Woody Jackson who designed Ben and Jerry’s cow labels. Eventually we started an organization called C.O.W. ---Cow Observers Worldwide and held a COWnference.
          Throughout the ten years I published the MOOsletter, I was interviewed by reporters from the Pittsburgh Press, the Dallas Morning News, CBS radio in NY City, National Public Radio, radio stations in Japan and Australia. Articles turned up in Stars and Stripes, newspapers from all over the U.S., as well as publications in Japan, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the Gulf News in the United Arab Emirates.
          In 1999, after 40 issues, it was time to MOOve on to other things. The MOOsletter had been a labor of love, but was a great deal of work for someone teaching full-time and running a small art-related business and needing to spend more time with an elderly parent. A Boston subscriber offered to take over publication, but after one issue, he gave up the job as well.
          About eight years ago, my interest in digital art had led me down a different artistic path, as well. And when my elderly mother began going downhill, I had to give up on cows for a while.

          On a Thanksgiving weekend several years after I started collecting cow paraphernalia, my mother pulled out old 8 mm home movies. Between the silent images of family reunions, picnics, and vacations, I saw my two-year-old self flickering on the screen. I was being held on the back of a docile cow by my mother and a farmer. Finally I had discovered the real root of my bovimania. The incident must have left a warm, repressed memory that set me on the path that led to my fifteen minutes of notoriety as a cow artist and the founder and editor of the MOOsletter.
(art and text ©C.J.Peiffer)
"AmeriCOW Graffiti" acrylic on stretched canvas
"Cow Pie" watercolor, colored pencils and photographs
"meMOOries" acrylic and photographs on stretched canvas