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Thousand Oaks Embarks on a Hare-Raising Quest for a Mascot

Public art: Council members hope sponsors will adopt the $2,000 fiberglass bunnies, decorate them and display them around town.

January 29, 2002|DAVID KELLY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It may not convey the great strength of a grizzly or nobility of an eagle, but the rabbit is being warmly embraced as a mascot and cultural icon in Thousand Oaks.

The City Council recently approved a public arts project to make and sell fiberglass bunnies for $2,000 each and display them around the city.

Dozens of the 5-foot-tall rabbit statues will be made for those wishing to reclaim their local heritage and put the conejo-- Spanish for rabbit--back in the Conejo Valley.

"It gives us a symbol. It says we are a valley of peace and contentment," Mayor Ed Masry said. "Who hates rabbits? I don't know anyone who is a rabbit hater. I look forward to seeing them go up."

Mary Ann Tachco, the city's cultural arts coordinator, said the rabbits initially raised eyebrows. "But these are big rabbits and no one else in the country is doing rabbits," she said.

Cincinnati has pigs, Chicago has cows and Orlando, Fla., has alligators. But rabbits remain unclaimed as city mascots. The sculpted animals emerge from molds looking identical, but each is decorated in extravagant fashion by local artists.

It was a sculpted alligator wearing jewels and a handbag that sparked the rabbit idea, said Jane Brooks, head of the Thousand Oaks Arts Commission.

"I was in Orlando at a wedding and there was this 8-foot gator on the front lawn with a pocketbook hanging from an appendage and I said, 'This is what I want to do.' My husband said, 'The rabbit thing again?' and I said, 'Yes, the rabbit thing.'"

Brooks figured her city was ready to revisit its rabbit roots. The affluent community has low crime, good schools and manicured lawns but little public art. So the City Council two weeks ago unanimously approved the idea and Brooks commissioned an artist to make a rabbit prototype.

Jeancherie, the Canoga Park sculptor chosen for the job, said she's treading a fine line between reality and being cartoonish.

"I have to watch out for being too cute," said the artist, who doesn't use a last name.

She insists the skittish creatures have many admirable qualities and are worthy symbols of Thousand Oaks.

"The rabbit is good, fast, quick-thinking and quick-moving," she said. "And he's very, very clever."

According to Tachco, the idea for this kind of public art came from Zurich, Switzerland, where a visiting businessman from Chicago noticed wildly decorated fiberglass cows standing throughout the countryside.

He brought the idea home and in 1999 Chicago began setting up decorated cows around the city. Other cities followed with their own animal mascots. Norfolk, Va., chose mermaids.

Last year Los Angeles erected 170 fiberglass angels, each standing more than 6 feet tall, throughout the city.

Tachco's plans are more modest. She hopes to line up 10 sponsors to buy the first of what she expects will be 20 to 30 rabbits. Once they are sold, there will be maps made of rabbit locations and tours offered. The first statues may be ready by May.

"I think it's kind of kicky," Councilman Dan Del Campo said. "The sponsors will buy them and commission local artists to depict the rabbit the way they see it. Someone can put a rabbit in a tuxedo. They can make them into the City Council members."

As for real-life conejos, Thousand Oaks has plenty.

"We have tremendous amounts of rabbits," Del Campo said. "I get calls from people every week who say, 'Can you do something about the rabbits, they're ruining my garden.' "

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