Beauty and expression found at Cincinnati ‘Big Pig Gig’

By Regina Villiers. Originally published November 1, 2000 in The Suburban Life, added November 16, 2019.

Regina Villiers and grandson, Christopher, pose with “Ms. Penciline,” the most pulchritudinous of pigs in the Big Pig Gig of the year 2000.

     When my kids from Georgia visited me in August, we acted like tourist for a day and went out to do what all of Cincinnati has done all summer long.

     We went pig hunting and spent the day marveling at and posing for pictures with pigs from the Big Pig Gig Public Art Project, which have perked up our city with their porcine beauty for the past several months.

     We discovered there can be enormous beauty and creative expression in the lowly pig.  We also discovered all over again that it’s a “small world after all.”

     Near the end of the day, we came upon a plethora of pigs at the Cincinnati Museum Center. Among them, in all her simplistic beauty, we discovered our favorite pig of all.

     “She’s covered with pencils!” we exclaimed, almost in unison.

     Indeed she was.  “Ms. Penciline” was covered with pencils of every color and length from the tips of her feet to the end of her curly tail.  Even her nose, soft and warm, was fashioned from pencil erasers.  As a lifetime member of the Lead Pencil Club, this seemed to me to be the most apt and creative idea for a pig in the whole world.

     Not every one of us was totally enamored by “Ms. Penciline,” however.  It had been a long day for 2-year-old granddaughter, Katy.

     She suddenly decided she was tired and that she’d posed with enough pigs for an entire lifetime.  She would not be a part of another pig picture, even a pig covered with pencils.

     But grandson Christopher loved the pig and immediately set his scientific mind to estimating how many pencils were involved.  (We later learned the estimated number of pencils is 10,000.)

     And then we learned about the “small world after all” part. 

     Amy Burton, the artist and co-creator of “Ms. Penciline,” is a close neighbor who lives just a few doors from me on my street.  Christopher and I had talked to her just a day before, never suspecting she had done a pig.  But we should have.

     Amy Burton is a fine, experienced artist who has taught art at Ursuline Academy of Cincinnati for many years.  She was helped with the pencil pig by Patrice Trauth, who is in her third year of teaching art at Ursuline.

     The two teachers brainstormed for some time before coming up with the pencil idea.  “It fits in with the school motto,” Burton said.  “We wanted the pig to have expression, to give the students a voice.

     The students had a voice.

     They collected and sharpened the pencils.  “Tons and tons” of pencils.  The teachers put out a major call for pencil donations.  Parents, teachers, siblings, friends- everyone collected pencils.  The pencils poured in.

     “We burned up three electric pencil sharpeners,” Burton said.

     Amy and Patrice applied the pencils to the pig, using Liquid Nail, skillfully fitting and tailoring them to the pig’s porky form.  Some pencil lengths had to be extremely short to fit in tiny spots.  Every space is artistically filled with an eye to form and color, from dark on the bottom to light on the top.  Every pencil length artistically blends into the next.

     “I wanted a ‘Jacob’s coat of many colors’ for the pig,” Burton said.

     There are pencils of every color on the pig.  Pink pencils make up the ears.  Silver and gold pencils rim the pips of the feet.  Pencil erasers cover the nose and eyebrows.  You could stand all day, studying the pencil mosaic.

     “I like the warmth of it,” Burton said.  “She is not a high tech pig.  And pencils are symbolic of the academic experience.

     I have long known Amy Burton to be a whimsical, creative person and artist.  She has a concrete dog statue in her yard, so lifelike in form that my youngest son, seeing it for the first time, gazed out the window at it for minutes, wondering why it never moved.

     So it’s a small world that she came up with what I think is the best pig of all in the Big Pig Gig of the year 2000.

     And it isn’t just my opinion.  At this moment, “Ms. Penciline” leads in two categories, “Best Pig” and “Most Daring Construction,” in a contest sponsored by a local newspaper.

     Whether or not she wins the contest, she has won the heart of my family.  We think she’s pork-opulent.

     And someday, maybe when she’s 3, 2-year-old Katy will be sorry she wouldn’t pose with “Ms. Penciline.”  She’s plenty of pork pulchritude.