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Pretty in Pork

Business owners get
creative with their porcine designs

Event raises scholarship money
for area agriculture students

By Lela Jane Bradshaw
Contributing Writer

(August 2012) – When people talk about Steve Fischer’s prize hogs, usually they are referring to the Harley Davidson motorcycles in his Midtown Motors shop in Madison, Ind. But during the Madison Ribberfest, it is a whole different type of “hog” that has been stirring up admiration and envy.

Steve Fischer

Photo by Lela Bradshaw

Steve Fischer won the Pigmania competition at last year’s Ribberfest with his “Miss Harley-Davidson”, He plans to return this year with an entirely new design, which he has kept under wraps until the festival weekend. Fischer owns and operates Midtown Motors in Madison, where he sells motorcycles.

For the past two years Fischer has turned his craftsmanship to decorating concrete pigs for the popular “Pigmania” event. Last year, Fisher topped his previous second-place finish in the contest and took home the hotly contested Viewer’s Choice award with his humorous “Miss Harley Davidson.” Fischer estimates that he spent 30 hours working on his attention grabbing pig. The 250-pound concrete statue was decked out in leather and chrome and sported orange details familiar to fans of the famous motorcycle brand.
The finishing touch, however, was the mannequin that accompanied the pig, a pretty blond model in motorcycle leathers walking the pig on a leash. Fischer credits the model with helping draw crowds of men wanting to get their photo taken posing with the mannequin.
Despite his proven track record of success, Fischer is actually unsure as to what it is that makes his entries so popular with the crowds. “I’m clueless,” he confesses about what it takes to make a winning pig. “Everybody has a different design... everybody has their own little twist on it.”
“It’s a big event, everybody wants to participate,” Fischer says.
Pigmania started off 11 years ago with 10 pigs and over the years has since grown to a major Ribberfest tradition. This year, Pigmania chairman Kevin Watkins estimates that 42 or 43 of the decorated concrete pigs will go up for judging. The pigs started hitting the streets by the start of July, and then on Aug. 16 the pigs will be collected for their showcase display. He credits event sponsor Andersons’ Sales and Service with helping make the heavy job of corralling the entrants possible by assisting with transportation.
“We head ‘em all up and herd them down,” says Watkins.

MainSource Bank Pig

Photos by Lela Bradshaw

The MainSource Bank pig (above)
and the Electric Lady’s pig
(below) greet visitors as they
walk down Main Street.

Electric Lady Pig

The pigs will be on view throughout Ribberfest just inside the West Gate at the base of Poplar Street. Judging takes place in two categories and prizes are presented at 6 p.m. Saturday of the festival.
“One is judged like a fair contest,” explains Watkins, with first second and third placings awarded. Each entrant is judged on a combination of how well the entry reflects the theme of Ribberfest, artistic quality, overall aesthetic appeal and originality.
However, Watkins believes that the real competition is for the “highly coveted” Viewer’s Choice award. Each pig on display has a tin can where crowds can vote with their dollars for their favorite pig. The money raised from voting, sponsorships, and the silent auction of donated pigs, all goes toward scholarships for Jefferson County high school graduates.
“It’s a fabulous event; people get really competitive,” Watkins says, laughing.
While everyone enjoys the fun and whimsy of brightly colored pigs springing up around town, the event actually draws on the history of Madison as a hub of livestock trade in years past. As pigs were being brought to market, every so often one would get loose in the street. “Occasionally, pigs were out in public,” Watkins says of early Madison. Though the Pigmania pigs are certainly a more welcome sight.

Phagan's Pig

Photo by Lela Bradshaw

Eric Phagan’s concrete pig creation
is a true work of art.

Local artist Eric Phagan, 32, also looked to Madison’s past when decorating his “Pig in Antique Light,” which is covered in ink sketches of historic buildings and river scenes. Phagan believes that the Pigmania tradition is a good way “to become part of the community.”
While this is his first year participating in the event, Phagan is well known for his innovative sculptures and, as an artist, he appreciated the challenge of working on an unusual form. He sees his pig as a fun way to advertise Gallery 115, which he co-owns saying that it “brings an awareness of the business.”
Phagan notes that many of the pig’s admirers appreciate the different approach he took to decorating his entry. “People like it,” he says.
The pig’s display in the gallery window is also something a little unusual. While many of the Pigmania pigs stand along the sidewalk or in doorways, Phagan’s piece is presented up off the ground in the window of the gallery. This elevation allows viewers a different perspective on the pig and makes it “more visible to the public,” he notes. The artist also believes that having the pig indoors cuts down on the potential for damage or vandalism.
Phagan points out that business owners would not necessarily have to rely on their own artist talents if they were interested in having a pig to show off in the weeks leading up to Ribberfest. He suggests commissioning “one of the several fine artists in Madison” to those wanting to sponsor a pig without the work of decorating it themselves. He believes many other artists would be delighted to have the chance to take part in the event.
“It’s just good for the community,” Phagan says. And like many other Pigmania fans, he is already looking forward to next year.

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