CHICAGO — Two new cows, inspired by the popular "Cows on Parade" public art exhibit, are being calved this week.
"They're cousins of the original Holy Cows," said 49-year-old artist Ken Aiken while putting the finishing touches on two cows in the back of a Bucktown garage Monday.
Aiken, who was living in Chicago when he was commissioned by Harry Caray's steakhouse to create bovines for Cows on Parade in 1999, said he thought "the whole cow thing was a little ridiculous at first."
That changed when some of Aiken's cows such as "Wait Cow," a commission for the Signature Room restaurant on the 95th floor of the John Hancock building, was featured on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and in People magazine.
The waiter bovine, which wore an apron and had an inscription of "Moo I suggest the fish?" went for $55,000 at a charity auction, Aiken said.
Today, Aiken calls the cows "a grassroots Chicago icon."
Earlier this month, Aiken — who lives in Buffalo, N.Y. — returned to Chicago to make one new "Holy Cow" for Harry Caray's restaurant chain as well as update another bovine.
One cow will grace Harry Caray's new Water Tower restaurant, scheduled to open in the spring at 835 N. Michigan Ave. The other, commissioned by chain CEO Grant DePorter, was repainted from purple to brown and will be made an "indoor cow" after being outside DePorter's home for many years.
Aiken's cows wear the legendary sportscaster's large black glasses and have holes in them -- quite literally a "hole-y" cow.
Aiken chose to work on the cows in Bucktown because a friend offered his garage and the visit also meant he could resurface and repaint "Cowlileo," a cow peering into a telescope on the southwest corner of Damen Avenue and Churchill Street in Bucktown.
Standing in front of Asha Salon at 1808 N. Damen Ave., "Cowlileo" is made of cement and stucco, unlike the fiberglass cows, and was commissioned in 2001 by The Renaissance Companies, a local real estate company that Aiken was renting from when he made the original Holy Cows.
"Everyone was wanting a cow," Aiken recalled of the year after the exhibition.
Jeanmarie Kapp, chief operating officer of The Renaissance Companies, said she asked Aiken to create a "Renaissance cow" and he came up with the idea of modeling a cow after Galileo, a Renaissance-era astronomer.
"A number of people stop and photograph it; people are amazed to see a cow standing," Kapp said of Cowlileo, which now has bright green eyes and bright white spots to replace its yellowing spots and udder that had discolored with time.
DePorter, who commissioned Christmas cards by Aiken featuring Harry Caray in an inner-tube drinking Budweiser and wearing a Santa Claus hat, praised the artist's versatility.
"He can paint and sculpt and is very talented. You can commission him to do anything," DePorter said of Aiken.
Aiken can be reached at email@example.com.