Motley flock of Hawks

These birds and their caretakers have been caged up for weeks in garages, studios and even the basement of a veterinarian's office.

Susan Younger stocked up on propane heaters and heating pads to warm her garage to a bearable temperature. Sharon Dewey set up fans and opened vents in her garage to keep from inhaling toxic fumes from melting fiberglass. And Winston Lata conformed her work schedule to the business hours of the local veterinarian's office that loaned her its basement as a work space.

All this for a mythical bird that's a bit too rotund to fit through a standard door but endearing enough to cajole 30 area artists to fawn over its appearance. Their careful attention has produced a motley flock of mascots that soon will be perched in locations across Lawrence for Jayhawks on Parade, an outdoor display of 30 decorated Jayhawks that will be installed the first week of April.

Artists have poured upwards of 50 hours into painting, adorning and otherwise altering some of the 4 1/2-foot-tall, 100-pound fiberglass birds.

"We're all crazy," Younger said. "But I haven't regretted it once."

Splash of creativity

Dewey's aquatic-themed Jayhawk "stands" 2 feet taller now than when she first hauled it home. Blue fiberglass water licks the Hawk's body where its feet used to be. Dewey cut them off and replaced them with a tail she carved from blocks of polyurethane foam and covered with fiberglass sheets and resin. She formed scales from car body putty, finished out the bird in traditional hues -- crimson, blue and gold -- and named it "Merhawk on the Kaw."

"When I heard about Jayhawks on Parade, my instinct was to make an aquatic one," said Dewey, a ceramic artist who's on an extended leave of absence from her job as aquatic ecologist at Kansas Biological Survey. "It kind of represents the connection between the Lawrence community and KU and the Kansas River."

Her creative idea called for a lot more effort than she expected.

She's been working six weeks solid to finish the bird in time for a Thursday reception for artists and sponsors. During most of that time, the half-Hawk, half-mermaid stood upside down -- balanced on its head and well-braced. Dewey took digital photos as she worked and then flipped them 180 degrees on her computer to monitor her progress.

"It's been a series of problem-solving to work on it upside down and without the legs," she said.

Younger's problem has been making sure her Jayhawks will stand up to the elements and public interaction. "Peace, Love and Daisy Hill Forever" -- one of three birds she helped complete for the parade -- is painted in '60s rainbow tie-dye with daisies, a heart and a peace sign and is wearing a pair of sunglasses. She made the glasses as sturdy as possible and bolted them to the Jayhawk's head.

"It's really hard to drill holes in your bird because you get really attached to him," she said. "But when I put the proposal in, I thought, 'OK, I'm probably going to have to replace the sunglasses.'

"I'm more worried about K-State or Missouri coming over and dumping purple paint all over them. The cows didn't have to contend with rivalry."

Just for fun

Jayhawks on Parade is modeled after similar public art displays in other communities. Cows were the canvas in Chicago and Kansas City. Lindsborg featured its wild Dala horses.

Though some critics have characterized Jayhawks on Parade as a marketing scheme that devalues art, participants say the event is a fun way to bring the community together around a beloved symbol and celebrate art at the same time.

"I think, obviously, it's part of a marketing deal, but they're not hiding that," said Joanne Renfro, whose Jayhawk "So Many Faces, but One Heart that is Crimson and Blue" was inspired by the diversity of KU and depicts faces of many colors with a blue and red heart. "High art isn't the only kind of art. Art can be fun and whimsical and goofy."

Several artists already have seen proof of just how much attention the birds attract. Kathy Drungilas moved her reflective Jayhawk, "Puttin' on the Glitz," to her front yard last week when the weather warmed up.

"He looks better and better every day," she said. "All the neighbors driving by stop and say, 'Can't you just keep him on your lawn?'"

Younger stopped at a local grocery store after picking up one of her Jayhawks. When she and her husband came back outside, they saw a woman petting the bird in the back of their truck.

"She was really embarrassed," Younger said. "But that's perfect. People and kids are just going to flock to them. A lot of people think it's not high art, but I have a quirky sense of humor."

So does Jennifer Rinehart-Unekis. Her parade offering, "Jayhawk as a Cow on Parade" -- a Jayhawk decked in a cow costume -- is a tongue-in-cheek twist on the Kansas City and Chicago cow parades.

'Roly-poly guys'

It's not just Lawrence artists who are putting their touches on the parading birds. KU alumni Susie Lawler and Pat Woelk of Leawood are weighing in with a heavy dose of Jayhawk pride. Their "Chip Off the Old Hawk" is covered in tiny shards of broken tiles, dishes and cups that have been mortared and grouted in place. The result is one heavy bird.

"He weighs between 250 and 300 pounds," Lawler said.

Katie Kring of Shawnee, also a KU alumna, also chose mosaic to dress up her Jayhawk, "Bit O' Hawk." She painted the broken tiles the traditional Jayhawk colors and pieced together the KU on his chest from tiny mirrors.

"It was pretty time-consuming, but it looks awesome," she said.

Artists received $1,000 for their work from a pool of $4,500 that companies and individuals paid to sponsor each Jayhawk. When the exhibition comes down in October, most of the birds will be donated to nonprofit organizations who can then auction them to raise money.

Three apprentices at Van Go Mobile Arts Inc., an organization that uses arts projects to teach job skills to at-risk teenagers, worked with artist Cathy Ledeker to create a Vincent Van Gogh-inspired Jayhawk they hope will benefit their arts program. Central National Bank sponsored "Gogh Van Gogh" and will donate the bird to Van Go after the exhibition.

The bird features snippets of Van Gogh's most famous paintings, coordinated to the Jayhawk's traditional colors: "Sunflowers" springs yellow from its beak; "Poppies" covers its crimson head; "The Starry Night" creates the blue hue on its wings; and Van Gogh's self-portrait stares up from the bird's foot.

The Jayhawk grips a paintbrush in its beak, and a single ear clings to the left side of its head. (The artist cut off part of an ear in response to what some say was a quarrel with a friend and others say was evidence of mental illness.)

For Karla Nathan, Shanna Wagner and Constance Ehrlich, creating their Jayhawks -- they did two -- was an act of friendship. Seeing it on display will just be an added perk.

Nathan and Wagner created "Pride," their version of a peacock, complete with stained-glass feathers, faux-painted body and glass mosaic beak, eyes and feet. Together with Ehrlich, they also cranked out "The Marvelous Mosaic Floral Fantasy Joyous Jewel Hawk" in the basement of the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 N.H. For the Jewel Hawk, Nathan painted a floral mural that coincided with the traditional colors of the Jayhawk; Ehrlich embellished the feet, eyes and tail with jewels; and Wagner encrusted the bird with mosaic work.

"When you're far away, it does just look traditional," Ehrlich said. "As you get up close, there's more and more to look at."

The three devoted many hours to the project.

"I quit counting," Nathan said. "We've laughed the days away down there working on them."

But it's been a joy, she said.

"We were surprised when we saw them. They're just a lot cuter than we thought. You just want to put your arms around them actually," she said. "They're just round roly-poly guys. They're adorable."


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