Real 'Party Animals' Painting the Town

Real 'Party Animals' Painting the Town

‘Lilyphant’ Comes to Life

Like her creator, “Lilyphant” is an unabashed conservative. She likes lavender, lilacs, lilies, and light.

Her hide is dappled with dainty green water lilies featuring pink blooms against a purple and lavender background.

Lilyphant’s left eye has a purple sclera, rather than white. Her right eye is closed, and she appears to be winking.

She is an elephant, one of 200 “Party Animals” commissioned by the D.C. Commission for the Arts and Humanities at $1,200 each to be displayed for five months and then auctioned at a “Raucus Caucus” to raise money for artists.

Designed by Cindi Berry, full-time lawyer and part-time artist, Lilyphant is among 100 elephants and 100 donkeys, the “Party Animals” coming to life this week on the second floor of a vacant building that was once the home of the Woodward and Lothrop department store.

But the one-time grandeur of downtown shopping has given over to the purely creative display of colorful, whimsical, donkeys and elephants, each one molded alike and painted with a distinctive theme.

AMONG THEM IS LILYPHANT, an elephant that came from the right side of the brain of a lobbyist who lives in Great Falls. As Cindi Berry painted dainty pink water lilies on Lilyphant’s substantial hulk Sunday, she talked about her general sense of disbelief that her design was one of 200 selected from more than 1,200 submissions.

“I never imagined they would pick my design,” said Berry, who specializes in health care issues for the firm of Wexler and Walker Public Policy Associates.

“I still keep wondering if it’s a mistake. I don’t have that [feeling] with my regular field. But it’s surprising I’m here with these people who do [art] for a living,” Berry said.

Although she’s had art and drawing lessons before, Berry started painting only two years ago, when she took lessons for the Great Falls Art Center.

Berry, a self-described “good, conservative, Republican,” took painting in a class of mixed adults and children. She said her teacher, and Great Falls Republican Woman, Marcia Fouquet sometimes taught class with Rush Limbaugh on the radio as background noise.

“I liked it, and I don’t think the kids noticed it,” Berry said.

Later, when a friend emailed her a notice about the competition for Party Animal designs, Berry conceptualized an elephant that would wear a version of Monet’s famous painting, “Water Lilies.”

“I love the French Impressionists. That’s what caused me to make this particular design,” Berry said Sunday.

She still can’t believe she was chosen, she said.

IN HER DAY JOB as a lobbyist, Berry faced an intense week of meetings with CEOs from out of town. After Sunday, she anticipated working from the left side of her brain for the remainder of the week.

Although the deadline for artists to finish their Party Animals is April 12, Berry faced “a self-imposed deadline of today.”

Woodie’s is open long hours on weekends and for a shorter time on weekday evenings for access by the artists.

Space heaters have been issued and supplementary lights are available, but there’s no running water on the second floor, and the restrooms are downstairs on the first floor, accessible by an escalator now standing still, Berry said.

Overhead, an anachronistic sign lists what’s available on the second floor at Woodie’s: gift wrap, beauty salon, men’s store, young men and boy’s 8 - 20.

Lilyphant, the feminine, tasteful elephant from Great Falls, keeps company with a Bette Midler-inspired donkey called “The Divine Miss Don-Key” and a Washington D.C. tourist donkey wearing a Hawaiian shirt, athletic shoes, and a fanny pack.

BERRY PAINTS from a paper palette as her husband Sonny sits nearby on a lawn chair wearing a University of Alabama sweatshirt and a St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap.

Classical music plays on their boombox, and a cell phone is handy. Her husband reads out loud from the sports pages as she paints.

All the animals will be placed at chosen locations around Washington from April through the fall of 2002. They’ll have “isolation coats” of protective gel and sprayed-on varnish with UV protection to defend them from the sun and graffiti during the five months they’re on display. Then, they’ll be auctioned off to permanent homes.

In other cities where similar projects have been completed, the animals have fetched imposing prices in the tens of thousands of dollars, said Party Animals project manager Alex McMaster.

One of the first was “Cows on Parade” in Chicago, which was adapted and used in New York, she said.

In Washington, the theme was tailored to reflect the political identity of the city. Although most of the artists are from D.C., they also come from other states and countries, McMaster said.

Ultimately, money raised from the project will be folded back into grants for artists, she said.

The initial capital investment pays for the animal molds and $200 for each artist’s materials. Each artist also receives a $1,000 honorarium, said McMaster.

Cindi Berry’s husband, Sonny, says he’ll bid up to $1,200 to get Lilyphant back to Great Falls. But his wife’s growing talent is something he isn’t sure he can afford, he said.