Day Trips

Sir Loin the Crusader Cow on Commerce Street
Sir Loin the Crusader Cow on Commerce Street (Photo By Gerald E. McLeod)

The CowParade is stampeding through San Antonio as a moo-ving moo-seum. Colorful bovine sculptures with names like Dairy Crockett and Tres Amoogos decorated by local artists adorn city sidewalks as a fundraiser for charities and a source of amoo-sement for visitors and spectators.

The CowParade originated in 1996 when Swiss artist Pascal Knapp was asked by his father, Walter Knapp, to design three life-sized cows to be used as three-dimensional canvases. The results were the models for three all-white heifers -- one with its head up, one grazing, and one reclining.

From Zurich, Switzerland, in 1998, the CowParade moved to Chicago in 1999 and to New York City in 2000. Since then the project has landed in nine cities around the world including Houston last year, where the exhibit attracted large crowds of followers trying to see or photograph each one of the 300 bovines in the parade.

The cows officially began grazing the downtown area and other San Antonio locations on Jan. 17 and will be in place through May. Shannon Stephens, chairwoman of sponsorship sales, doesn't know how many cows are actually in the parade because some strays are still wandering in, but the number is somewhere around 90. Money collected from the live and Internet auction of the herd in May will go to benefit the American Cancer Society, the city of San Antonio Office of Cultural Affairs, and Daisy Stream, a pediatric-health research foundation sponsored by CowParade Holdings of Connecticut.

More than 300 artists submitted drawings to the selection committee for whimsical and often irreverent designs to adorn the cows, Stephens says. Most of the artwork selected was done by Central Texas residents. "An eighth-grader from St. Mary's Hall practically begged to have his idea accepted," she says. His winning entry, Cowyote, a remarkably realistic rendering of the Spurs basketball team's mascot Coyote, stands on Commerce Street.

The entire parade actually consists of 10 smaller herds strategically placed around town. The largest groups are downtown at Alamo Plaza, on Houston, Commerce, and Market streets, and at the Alamo Quarry Market, a shopping center on U.S. 281 north of Downtown.

"The neat thing about the CowParade is that every city creates their own version," Stephens says. "It is an event that has been often imitated, but never duplicated." A couple of years ago Santa Fe, N.M., put on a similar art show of painted horses. Last summer Sturgeon Bay, Wisc., decorated their Main Street with hand-painted fiberglass sturgeon. Clear Lake, near Houston, placed colorful pelican statues along the major thoroughfares. Other projects have used mermaids, pigs, potato heads, and other unusual statuary.

The Knapps selected cows because the docile creatures grab attention and provide a versatile canvas for the artist. How could anybody not love the beast that gives us ice cream? "The best thing about the CowParade is that it's free and it's interactive," Stephens says.

In fact, the 90-pound, hollow sculptures anchored in cement are in danger of being "loved too much," she says. The bovines have been so popular that a "cow doctor" had to be enlisted for the cattle drive. Schlitterbahn Waterpark in New Braunfels volunteered their resident fiberglass expert to mend broken animals. Stop by the "Cow Hospital" at 315 E. Houston St. in San Antonio to see in the window the raw "beef" before an artist's humor has transformed the blank canvas into a Cowctus or Texas Alamoo.

Sponsors paid $7,500 to bring one of the cows to San Antonio. Artists were paid an honorarium for their work. After the auction, the proud owners of these unique pieces of art often donate them to business lobbies, museums, schools, or just place them in their back yards. "The sculptures are remarkably weather resistant and a great conversation piece," Stephens says. She had a prototype in her front lawn for a while that became a centerpiece of the neighborhood.

Visitors to San Antonio can purchase a T-shirt or book of the San Antonio CowParade from the San Antonio City Store at 317 Alamo Plaza. For a complete listing of the grazing locations of the cows, go to or call 210/595-0251.

608th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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CowParade, San Antonio, Pascal Knapp, Walter Knapp, Shannon Stephens

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