Artists Paint Party Animals

Artists Paint Party Animals

This summer the sidewalks of Washington, D.C. will be home to hundreds of donkeys and elephants.

The animals will be inanimate sculptures, painted by local artists.

The project, dubbed Party Animals, is being sponsored by the D.C. Commission on the Arts. And of the 100 donkey sculptures that will be on display, three have been painted by Reston artists.

Dorothy Donahey, an artist at the Reston Art Gallery; Denise Hooe, a local mural painter; and 150 art students from Lake Anne Elementary make up the Reston contingent.

Donahey spent 100 hours painting her donkey with multi-colored awareness ribbons. She painted pink ribbons for breast cancer awareness, red ribbons for AIDS awareness and green ribbons for earth awareness.

In order to paint the donkey, she took two weeks vacation time from her job as an interior designer. And when she drove her donkey to D.C.'s old Woodward and Lothrop department store, where all 200 sculptures are being stored, she had a welcome surprise. Officials from the D.C. Arts Commission told Donahey to wait a moment before unloading her donkey.

"I saw a film crew coming out," Donahey said. "Then [arts commission representative] Alexandra McMasters came out and said Diane Williams [Mayor Anthony Williams' wife] had selected my donkey to be placed in front of the Mayor's office at the Wilson Building."

The artist was thrilled.

"It was like winning a blue ribbon," she said.

The Mayor's wife selected Donahey's donkey after looking through the design application drawings submitted for the project. And she was not the only one to take notice of the donkey. Donahey said a steady stream of people visited the Lake Anne gallery while she was working on the donkey.

"We had one little girl who wanted to climb up and ride on him," Donahey said.

And while Donahey worked on her donkey at Lake Anne Village Center, students at nearby Lake Anne Elementary painted their own donkey.

THE STUDENTS STARTED work on the donkey in January, with some help from art teachers Patti Koreski, Lana Jernigan and Pauline Daniels. First and second graders drew the characters that would grace the sculpture, while fifth and sixth graders painted the drawings onto the donkey.

Taking the name of the project as their theme, the students covered the donkey with various people, including political figures, in party mode.

Sixth grader Sebastian Davis said his favorite feature on the donkey is one that he painted.

"I like the picture where Abe Lincoln is dancing with a clown," he said.

Fifth grader Nora Gibbs said she like the slides and ladders that wrap around the donkey's body.

"So much is going on," she said.

Koreski, one of the Lake Anne art teachers, said the students started getting into the project when she first showed them the design drawings, approved by the D.C. Commission on the Arts. 200 designs were chosen out of 1,200 submissions. And Lake Anne was the only Virginia public school represented.

"They got really excited when we told them they were competing against professional artists, and they won," said Jernigan.

WHEN DENISE HOOE found out her design, which she calls Donkey-ote, was accepted into the project, she was "elated." She had seen the cow sculptures that graced the streets of Chicago a few years ago and had said, "Oh, I would like to do that."

Similar projects have been sponsored in cities around the country, including Lexington where artists painted horses, Tampa where they painted turtles and Baltimore where they painted fish.

Hooe's donkey is based on Miguel de Cervantes' famous Spanish knight, Don Quixote. The donkey is equipped with a costume store helmet, shield and lance. He wears form-fitting armor, made of a flexible rubber compound, on his torso. And he wears chain mail, made of fish net stockings, on his legs. Hooe said she had to replace the stocking several times, because they kept getting torn up when she used a drill to attach the donkey to its wooden base.

"It's going to be hard to give him up," she said. "It's been a lot of fun doing him."

The first 10 donkeys and elephants are scheduled to be placed in the city on April 23. Ten new sculptures will hit the streets each day following April 23. All 200 should be in place by May 10.

But there may be an obstacle to the project. The Green Party has filed for an injunction, claiming that the sculptures should not be exhibited because they only represent the Democratic and Republican parties. Tony Gittens, executive director of the D.C. Commission on the Arts, said city attorneys are handling the injunction.

"It is up to the courts," Gittens said. "All we know is that we will continue to work on the project."

He said Party Animals is an arts project, and no political agenda was intended.

"We picked icons that would be readily identifiable with the city," Gittens said. "We didn't pick icons for any political reason. It was for artistic reasons. It's supposed to be fun, to bring tourists to the city."

After the sculptures are taken off the streets in September, they will be auctioned off at a minimum bid of $2,000 each. Proceeds go to the Greater Washington Girls and Boys Clubs, as well as the D.C. Commission on the Arts.