Four cows with personality corralled in Berkeley exhibit

Melissa McRobbie
Tuesday September 24, 2002

Volunteers with Berkeley’s Ohlone Greenway Group are introducing one of three new public art installations as “four steel cows with distinctive personalities.” 

One may wonder how a steel cow can have a distinctive personality, but after seeing Elsie, Ferdinand, Laxmi and Kali, the description begins to make sense.  

“Look at the way Ferdinand looks longingly at Elsie,” sighed Karl Linn, project coordinator for the exhibit. 

The new exhibit is located on the stretch of Ohlone Greenway between Peralta Avenue and Gilman Street. 

Linn, a garden lover known throughout the community, has lived near the Ohlone Greenway for more than 10 years. He stressed that many neighbors and volunteers that have made the project possible. 

The cows are the most striking of the three new works of art, but of equal interest are the adobe column “Peralta Gateway” and the mural “From Elk Tracks to BART Tracks.” 

The gateway commemorates the pre-Gold Rush period when California was part of Mexico with images, text and cheerfully colored tiles painted by local children. The 72-foot mural, a collaboration of six artists, depicts the history of transportation and migration in the East Bay.  

The aim of the exhibit is to teach people about the history of the area but also, according to Linn, to help build community. 

“The whole point is it bring people together. People take down their defenses and connect to their deeper core of being. They see the art and stop to talk to each other, animating the greenway,” he said. 

As if to prove Linn’s point, neighbor Rayce H. Mason paused in his stroll to examine the steel cows. 

“I like the cows,” said Rayce. “My grandmother had so many cows... I started milking when I was seven.” 

“Me too,” Linn replied. “Thirteen cows, three times a day.” 

The cows, created by artist Amy Blackstone, were landscape architect Ted Vorster’s idea, and were inspired by Vorster’s conversations with elderly Berkeley residents about life in the East Bay in the 1920s. 

“There were lots of cows, open fields and pastures,” said Vorster. “During the 1920s, cows would get loose, walk into gardens and soil sidewalks with cow patties. These days it’s only dogs we have to worry about.”  

Funding for the exhibit was provided by BART, the Berkeley Civic Arts Commission, and the city’s department of parks, recreation and waterfront, with fiscal sponsorship by Berkeley’s Partners for Parks.  

The dedication for the Ohlone Greenway Natural and Cultural History Interpretive Exhibit is 10 a.m. today. A public celebration is scheduled 2 to 4 p.m. Sept. 29. Ceremonies begin at the Peralta Community Garden on Peralta Avenue near Hopkins Street in north Berkeley. For more information call 464-6119.