How Now Browning Cow

Oct. 13, 2000

by Lori Scott Fogleman

Before an enthusiastic crowd of children, Baylor faculty and staff, supporters of the arts in the Waco community, and even a Pied Piper, Baylor University unveiled Oct. 12 "How Now Browning Cow," its addition to "WACOWS-A Mooving Experience," a public art exhibition of artistically enhanced life-size fiberglass cows that will ultimately benefit programs at The Art Center of Waco.

The unveiling of "How Now Browning Cow," with its stunningly ornate design created by renowned Waco artist Kermit Oliver and based on the well-known Robert Browning poem "The Pied Piper of Hamelin," took place on the front lawn of Armstrong Browning Library on the Baylor campus.

After a Pied Piper parade, reenacted by Pam Baumgardner, a senior flute major from Round Rock, and pre-kindergarten students and teachers from Baylor's aptly named Piper Center for Child Development, Baylor President Robert B. Sloan Jr. and Armstrong Browning Library director Mairi Rennie unveiled Oliver's magnificent achievement.

"How Now Browning Cow" will be on public display in the foyer of Moody Memorial Library on the Baylor campus until Dec. 9. On that day, all 40 WACOWS will be offered to the highest bidder during a Gala auction at the Heart O' Texas Coliseum in Waco and on the Internet. All proceeds benefit The Art Center.

Noted as the first American ever to design scarves for Hermes, the 152-year-old French fashion house celebrated worldwide for its collectible silk scarves, Oliver's "How Now Browning Cow" is a delight to see and breathtaking in its detail.

A closer look at the cow's brown and white hide shows a map of the world, while the four panels painted on the cow's side depict, in perfect 19th century style and reminiscent of Oliver's Hermes scarf designs, scenes of the Pied Piper as he interacts with the townspeople, rats and children of Hamelin. Toy rats, eating everything from cheese to a radish, adorn the cow from head to toe, and the artist's gentle personality is reflected in the cow's soft expression.

Even Oliver's addition of a wreath of bells and pomegranates around the cow's neck has special meaning, especially for such Browning scholars as Rennie.

"The bells and pomegranates theme can be seen in several places - the windows, doors, molded plaster ceiling, the bronze border on the terrazzo floor and Pen Browning's gold leaf on wood frame surrounding his father's portrait," according to an explanation found on ABL's web site. "Browning titled a series of pamphlets Bells and Pomegranates, a name symbolizing the music and meaning of poetry. The religious associations of the term are found in Exodus, where the border of the high priest's robe is described as being decorated with bells and pomegranates."

Truly a "Gentle" Man

Although known throughout the world for his paintings, Oliver works for the U.S. Postal Service and lives a quiet life in Waco with his wife, Katie, also an accomplished artist. A quiet, gentle man who prefers not to be in the spotlight, Oliver spoke to the hushed crowd about the childhood stories that inspired him then, and now.

"I can't imagine a childhood without stories. I'm old enough to remember the oral tradition," he said. "But more importantly, I remember reading a story about the purpose and use of fairytales, that it was important to children because it was like a rite of initiation into the adult world, [with its] fears and shadows, and to let them know that they could cope by creativity and the use of imagination. That's the continuum and touchstone for children and childhood the world over."

Oliver's works are in permanent collections of Houston's Museum of Fine Arts and the Art Museum of Southeast Texas in Beaumont. A collection of his works will be on display Nov. 3 through Dec. 6 at the University Art Gallery in the Hooper-Shaefer Fine Arts Center on the Baylor campus.

"Kermit is definitely one of the most important African-American artists of his generation in Texas," said Rick Lowe, guest curator, Museum of Fine Arts in Houston.

Co-chair of WACOWS and Art Center board member Luanne Klaras said they were thrilled to have an artist of Oliver's stature design the Baylor-sponsored cow.

"Kermit kept us in suspense throughout the design process. Our complete trust in his artistic expression gave us full confidence in the completed work, which is breathtaking," Klaras said.

"We are very privileged not only to have Kermit Oliver as a Waco resident but to have his willingness to take on this project and ultimately with the help of all of us to benefit The Art Center," Sloan said.

The Pied Piper Theme

Rennie, who as a child in England was taught to speak "properly" by enunciating the "ow" in "how now brown cow," told the audience that "we just couldn't resist a Browning cow."

The Pied Piper theme was chosen to honor Robert Browning, one of the great British poets of the Victorian Age. Originally written in 1842 to entertain a close friend's son who was ill, "The Pied Piper of Hamelin" tells of the town that does not keep its promise to a pied piper. The piper, in turn, entrances all of the town's children to follow him as he plays his flute and leads them away from their homes, never to return.

Rennie said the tale of the Pied Piper is a serious one.

"There's an important moral to the story which is still very current and it means you must behave ethically in business, keep your word," she said. But she also pointed out that Browning's poem is "full of jokes and wordplays and avoids too serious a tone."

Armstrong Browning Library also is connected to Browning's poem in several ways, beginning with an event 26 years before the library was built.

"In June 1924, some of Dr. Armstrong's admirers gave him a wonderful stained glass window. The presentation of this Pied Piper window became a Pied Piper festival with 400 Waco children ... dressed as rats to illustrate the rats in the poem," Rennie said. "In 1950, the Pied Piper window was moved to the library. In 1984, there was the 700th anniversary of the Pied Piper legend and the 60th birthday of the window, and there was another Pied Piper Festival on this lawn again with local schoolchildren."

From that, she said, was the development of the Pied Piper tours program for local schools that still happens every February.

A "Herald" for ABL

"How Now Browning Cow" also is a herald for Baylor's Armstrong Browning Library, which houses the largest collection of Browning memorabilia in the world, including portraits of Browning, paintings related to his poems, much of the furniture associated with him or his family and other items that belonged to him or his wife, poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Even the library's 56 stained glass windows, believed to be the largest collection of secular stained glass in the world, illustrate quotations from Browning poems.

In addition, the library is a research library devoted to the works of the Brownings. Their literary contemporaries are represented as well in the library's holdings, particularly Matthew Arnold, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Charles Dickens and John Ruskin.

Also, on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2001, Armstrong Browning Library will begin its Golden Jubilee celebrations, marking the library's 50th birthday.

"Scholars will assemble from all over the world because this library is known in Korea, Japan, South Africa, Australia, England and many, many other countries," Rennie said. "We will have visitors from Italy, England and the U.S.A. and descendants of Dr. Armstrong, his grandchildren, we hope, some Browning relatives and Barrett families. That is what we're working towards and in a sense the 'How Now Browning Cow' is a wonderful beginning."

A "Moooving" Experience

The Art Center of Waco is the sponsor of "WACOWS-A Mooving Experience," a public art exhibition of life-size fiberglass cows painted by Texas artists. The herd will stand, graze and recline on the streets of Waco until Saturday, Dec. 9, when they will be auctioned at a Gala celebration through live and Internet venues. Proceeds from the auction will benefit The Art Center programs with a portion allocated toward "mooving the mooseum" (The Art Center itself) to a more central location in downtown Waco.

"We thank Baylor University for supporting The Art Center and the arts in our community by sponsoring a cow through the center's 'WACOWS: A Mooving Experience' public arts project and for the continued support of Open Door Arts Fest," said Mary Ann Dris, administrative director of The Art Center of Waco. "We would also like to say a special thanks to Kermit Oliver for creating such a fine work of art and we look forward to working with Baylor as we serve our community in the future."

"I love this, a Browning cow," said Rennie. "How truly a Texas expression of the Pied Piper story."

More information about "How Now Browning Cow," WACOWS and the Gala auction can be found online at http://www.wacows.com/ or by calling the Art Center at (254) 752-4371.

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