Inspiration comes in all shapes and sizes. For Botticelli it was the nubile body of Venus. For da Vinci it was the restrained smile of Mona Lisa. For 46 artists who entered a late January show in Des Moines, inspiration came from a beast that grunts, snorts and lolls in the muck: the ail-American pig. Sponsored by the Porkettes, the women’s division of the Iowa Pork Producers Association, the Pig-casso art show included 144 porcine works and drew raves from 7,500 pork producers at a trade show. “Whoever done this stuff knowed what he was doing,” said “Frosty” Wright, 67, a janitor at the Veterans Auditorium where the works were displayed. “I know they’re giving prizes—ribbons and such—so it must be art.”
Proud Porkette Nancy Everman, 33, dreamed up the show last year while sorting through her sizable collection of glass pigs, pig dish towels and pig dishes. Hundreds of artists, she realized, must create such stuff, and Iowa ought to honor them. After all, no other state produces as many pigs—about 22 million a year. The Porkettes, who also run a cook-off, where such delicacies as pork pizza loaf and hot pork dip are tested, went hog-wild when they heard Everman’s plan. They placed an ad in the Iowa Pork Producer and garnered entries mostly from in-state artists. “Every pig is different,” says Everman, to explain the local fascination with the subject. “And I swear that they smile at you.”
Wearing her “Iowa Pork Queen 1985” sash and a rhinestone tiara, Susan Abel, 19, pinned a ribbon on her favorite work. Abel, who grew up tending 800 porkers on her family’s Iowa farm, chose a weathered wooden door with two brown cuddling pigs painted on it. “I like the wood grain,” she explained, “and it’s a good representation of pigs.”
The most coveted award, however, came from Kathryn Johnson, 42, a county official chosen as the supreme Pig-casso judge with the power to bestow $200 on the grand winner and $150 and $100 to two runners-up. Johnson gave top honors to “Farm With Pigs,” a watercolor of 21 pigs by Pat Hokes, 48, of Ankeny, Iowa. “I draw cows too,” said Hykes. “But I don’t know as you get as much character with cattle as you do with pigs.” Second prize went to a three-foot stuffed muslin pig by Mary Jo Parker, 31, of Mingo, Iowa. “This is my first serious pig,” she said. “Friends would call me up when I was making it, and I’d tell them, ‘I can’t go out. I’m busy pig-making.’ ”
Some pig-mented drawings, sculptures, pottery and textiles wowed the crowds if not the judge. “Oh, I like that one,” cheered one observer. “I know that pig.” Other folks marveled at three wildly purple-and-blue “Punk Pigs” by art teacher Don Heggen, 45. Agnes Carbrey, 31, an Ames native now living in New York City, flew home to show her wares. “I’m a serious painter, but I have trouble,” complained Carbrey. “They’re very snobby in New York, and they don’t understand why I paint pigs.” Iowans understood but failed to lighten their piggy banks for her citified prices—as high as $800 a painting.
Everman, who with husband Ken runs a farm where 2,500 pigs are raised each year, beamed with pride at the art collection she helped to gather. “Who ever thought there’d be so many beautiful pigs?” she asked. To some that may sound like hogwash. But for the pigheaded, every sty holds a model for fine art.