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Friday, 01 April 2016 14:20

Lykeminded blog: Bessie's a Holstein? That's going too far

Written by  By Jim Lyke, community columnist
Janesville's iconic Bessie the Cow Janesville's iconic Bessie the Cow

Lykeminded blog, by Jim Lyke

Don’t mess with Bessie.

That message comes through loud and clear from certain locals whenever Janesville’s iconic cow gets adorned with anything from high heels to pink spots to Mexican headwear.

So I imagine a segment of the population is none too pleased about the recent announcement that Bessie is transitioning from a Guernsey to a Holstein.

Apparently cows, unlike leopards, can change their spots.

I certainly understand the reasoning behind the change.

After all, when you think of cows, especially Wisconsin cows, the image that usually comes to mind is that of a black-and-white Holstein.

At the Wisconsin-themed gift shops, you’ll find everything from T-shirts to mailboxes adorned in Holstein colors.

And no less an expert than "Far Side" cartoonist Gary Larson chose the Holstein as his representative dairy cow in hundreds of strips.

Not that there is anything wrong with Guernseys.

I’m sure they are perfectly fine cows.

But do these reddish-orange bovines make you think Wisconsin?

Personally, having grown up on a dairy farm where we exclusively milked Holsteins, I like the impending change.

But this reflection of the local zeitgeist is about more than just aesthetics.

Making Bessie a Holstein could truly be a cash cow for Janesville.

The change in appearance should stimulate lagging merchandise sales.

"New" Bessie T-shirts, postcards, photos and other items likely will be solid "moovers."

Consider Bessie’s new look the equivalent of a sports team adding alternate jerseys.

It’s no accident that the Packers occasionally wear blue, and Brewers jerseys come in every color from gold to blue to red.

A new look equals new sales, a fact not lost on city fathers.

To that end, "Bessie’s Milk House" will be constructed in a section of the parking lot next to Bessie.

The small gift stand will feature the aforementioned Bessie items as well as other related goods like Cow Pie candies.

Although the benefits to Bessie’s Holsteinism are many, it is acknowledged that not everyone will be happy about the change.

Artist Harry Breederman of Chicago ultimately was chosen to do the work on Bessie after local artists were offered the job -- and turned it down.

One Rock County artist told me that she believed the backlash would kill her career here.

"I wouldn’t touch Bessie with a 10-foot brush," she said.

Others apparently felt likewise.

Breederman, however, seems a perfect choice for the job.

Renowned for "bold" projects in the Windy City, Bessie will not be his first Holstein.

To celebrate Illinois Farm Progress Days in 2004, Breederman temporarily transformed the Picasso in Chicago’s Daley Plaza into an abstract version of Bessie-To-Be.

He dubbed his work -- wait for it -- "Pic-Cow-So."

The mixed reviews that project generated may serve as ample preparation for what Breederman might hear once work begins on Bessie, depending on how outraged art lovers express themselves as opposed to outraged agriculturalists.

Whether it’s a new bypass around Milton or the closing of the General Motors plant, change is often hard to swallow.

But with time, wounds heal and we move on.

Rock County residents are a sturdy lot, and while we may get our bibs in a bunch for a brief spell, I suspect that the new black-and-white Bessie will be embraced warmly.

Excitement will be in the air on the day of her grand unveiling, when the city council and the local chamber ambassadors pose for a photo in front of Bessie and unfurl a banner that reads: "Happy April Fool’s Day 2016."

Jim Lyke is a writer who lives in Milton. His column appears monthly.

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