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Cincy Sentimental Over Porcine Past

CINCINNATI (AP) — Fiberglass pigs? Plush, squeezable toy pigs? Winged pig T-shirts?

The city that once shunned its Porkopolis nickname and hog-butchering past is turning sentimental about its porcine past.

Dozens of artist-designed fiberglass pigs hit the streets this month, in time for the second annual Flying Pig Marathon this Sunday. Companies rushed to sponsor the sidewalk porkers after last year's race produced $150,000 in sales of T-shirts and other items.

In all, residents can look forward to 360 fiberglass pigs on the streets, in parks and in building lobbies during the Big Pig Gig art project that runs into October. The pigs will later be auctioned to raise money for arts groups.

The idea came from a 1998 public art project in Zurich, Switzerland, which featured more than 800 decorated fiberglass cows. It was mimicked in Chicago last year with ``Cows on Parade,'' which was scheduled to hit New York City on June 15

It wasn't always this way in Cincinnati.

There were squeals of protest in 1988 when artist Andrew Leicester included 185-pound, 3-foot-tall winged pigs atop 30-foot columns in a public bicentennial sculpture at Cincinnati's riverfront. Residents wrote letters to the editor and turned out at a City Council hearing to discuss whether it would be a permanent embarrassment to Cincinnati.

Some of those who got worked up back then now wonder why.

``They're all right. It's not the best sculpture in the world, but it's not the worst,'' says Marian Benz, another letter writer who has grown more comfortable with the pigs.

``Indeed, what was the fuss all about?'' asks Leicester. ``It was simply looking back at the history of the community and pulling to the fore facts and information that people had forgotten about. But, they were central underpinnings.''

Rick Greiwe, the head of the commission that chose Leicester's design, said it was the only one that incorporated elements of the city's history. He says he now sees locals walking around the bicentennial sculpture, telling visitors what it signifies.

``It's fun when people internalize their history,'' Greiwe said. ``Art — especially place-making art like Andrew did there — accomplishes that.''

Leicester hasn't been back to Cincinnati recently. He noted wryly that no one invited him to fire the starter pistol last year for the Flying Pig Marathon.

Still, he thinks residents have accepted their history, after getting past the perceived drawbacks.

``I think it may just have been one of those periodic seismic shifts in the life of a society,'' Leicester said. ``They've grown up a bit. They have a more mature concept of themselves.''


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