The dog days of summer Vermillion artist’s human-sized prairie dog joins pack in region

The dog days of summer Vermillion artist's human-sized prairie dog joins pack in region Artist Carol Geu is pictured with students from St. Agnes School in Vermillion who put the finishing touches on "Prairie Children," a 5-foot-tall fiberglass sculpture that is part of the Sioux City Arts Center's Prairie Dog Quest. by David Lias Chicago had cows. St. Paul sported Snoopy. Omaha had J Does.

What creature could be used to make an artistic statement in this region?

Why, the prairie dog, naturally.

There may not be a "best of breed" in the Prairie Dog Quest project, but the fiberglass dogs, which have begun popping up all over the tri-state region in recent weeks, are sure to put on one heck of a show.

One of the dogs, designed by Vermillion artist Carol Geu, is named "Prairie Children," and had the honor to be selected to join the pack of critters in the Prairie Dog Quest.

The quest is a public art display tied into the upcoming Lewis and Clark "Corps of Discovery" anniversary celebration.

Approximately 50 painted, costumed, festooned and whimsically altered prairie dogs will roam the Sioux City area from now until October.

Geu's design is sponsored by the law offices of Crary, Huff, Inkster, Sheehan, Ringgenberg, Hartnett, Storm and Jensen.

This firm has offices in Sioux City, South Sioux City and Dakota Dunes so "Prairie Children" will travel to three states this summer.

The design incorporates the self portraits of the children of St. Agnes School in Vermillion.

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The base coat was applied by Mart Auto Body.

"Prairie Children" has been covered with a map showing the journey of the Corps of Discovery. Reflected in the eyes of the prairie dog is Spirit Mound, located north of Vermillion.

Captains Lewis and Clark visited Spirit Mound on Aug. 25, 1804. Geu has reproduced the children's self portraits along the path of the river. The self portraits serve as a link between the past and the present, what the river once was and what it is today.

More than 100 submissions by nearly 80 artists were winnowed by a jury down to around 80 designs from 60 artists, said Nancy McGuire, former Art Center curator. The finished prairie dogs began appearing outside banks, manufacturing companies, law offices, health centers and other public places in the region in mid-May.

The artists whose concept designs made the cut received their plain white prototype prairie dogs in late March. In just a short time, the 50 prairie dogs hardly resembled one another.

There's "Prairie (as in Harry) Potter," complete with the crest of Dogwart's School on his cape. "I wanted to to take a icon of pop and twist it a little bit," said artist Bonnie Winniger of Waterloo, IA.

"Prairie Door Dog" is dressed in a vintage doorman's uniform and, thanks to sponsorship by Dave Bernstein, will stand guard at the Orpheum Theatre. The artist is Rita Haberger.

A jazzy "Prairie Dog Blues," sponsored by Ritch LeGrand, will share the door dog's neighborhood, standing near LeGrand and Co. offices at Sixth and Pierce Streets in Sioux City. The artist is Jean Mason of Omaha.

The prairie dog themes have as man paths as their namesakes tunnels that lace the Dakota plains. Food is one. "Hot Diggity Dog" and "Corn Dog" join "Ice Cream Dream" and "Popcorn Dog" � perhaps appealing to certain local businesses.

Artists were asked to submit two concepts, one strictly from their own imagination and the other from an idea that might appeal to a regional sponsor, Adams said.

"Chip," a prairie dog with a coat of recycled computer motherboards, video cards and hard drives, is a tip-of-the-glue-gun to technology by Okoboji, IA artist Lissa Potter.

"Cubicle Dog" will likely win sympathizers among those who also work in one.

"Super Dog" is sure to elicit a smile from those of a certain age. Artist Gordon Deas of Omaha has indicated he will "be enhancing the muscle tone."

The black leather garb and and silver-studded fingerless gloves of "Harley Dawg" by Lisa M. Peters of South Sioux City give him a quintessential biker air.

History is a popular theme.

Wyatt Stokes of Papillon, NE designed his prairie dog as an Egyptian sarcophagus, complete with Egyptian headdress and and goatee.

Several, such as "Indian Tribe Mosaic" by by Suzan Holiday of Omaha, pay tribute to Indians. Holliday's dog honors Great Plain tribes with symbolic beadwork in honor, she said, of a time when man lived more harmoniously with nature.

Look for a double-dog offering in "Prairiewether Lewis and Capt. William Clark," a team effort by area artists Nan Wilson and Paul Chelsted.

Their dogs will be the ones in the canoe. They already have a team sponsor, Guarantee Roofing and and the Missouri River Historical Development Board.

It will be placed at the new Lewis and Clark Interpretative Center now under construction in Chris Larsen Park.

It's an unusual entry, but one that reflects the project's inspiration. When Lewis and Clark came onto the plains northwest of the Vermillion region they encountered prairie dogs for the first time and reported being captivated by the "barking squirrels."

Their journals recount the comical process of capturing a live prairie dog which they sent back to President Thomas Jefferson in Washington, DC.

The Art Center wanted the public art project to tie in with the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 2003-2005.

Adams said if the inaugural project goes over well, the Art Center would bring it back over the several years of the bicentennial.

Adams attributes the high number of submissions by Omaha artists to that city's J. Doe project in which human forms were decorated.

"They saw what a success that was," she said. "I think it is hard to conceptualize until you've seen it done."

Artists receive $800 for completing a prairie dog, which, unpainted, costs the Art Center $345.

The prairie dogs will remain on display until Oct. 16 when they will be auctioned off, if they haven't been bought outright, for $1,500 by their sponsors.

Adams, who attended the auction of the J Does in Omaha last year, said in that city, one-third were bought outright. Of the remaining two-thirds, all but one brought less than the purchase price and most went for more than double that amount.

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