When Cows Make Art

It is said that those who seek beauty will find it everywhere. This is certainly true of Whit Deschner, a writer-turned-art-critic in Baker City, Oregon. Deschner is the creator of Baker City’s annual Great Salt Lick Art Auction, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Farmers and ranchers from around the region bring in blocks of salt that their livestock have licked into interesting shapes. The tongue sculptures are judged and auctioned off at a party that brings the whole town together.

If you didn’t know what you were looking at, it really would be easy to mistake the used salt licks for works of modern art. That’s what got Deschner thinking, back in 2006, while visiting a friend who had left a used-up salt lick in front of his cabin.

"We'd had a couple of beers, and it just started looking more and more like art to us," Deschner told NPR. "Could be outside a federal building."

The next step was obvious—to Deschner, anyway. There would have to be an art contest.

Deschner’s neighbors were understandably skeptical at first. But eight years later, the Great Salt Lick Art Auction has become the party—and the art event—of the year. Despite the seemingly random nature of salt-lick sculpture production, a good-natured competition has arisen among the locals.

“I think my cows do an OK job, but I really feel my sheep have brought it home for me,” rancher Kim Jacobs told NPR.

A fresh salt lick retails for about $5, but the finished works of art are auctioned off for much more, between $200 and $1000. The auction is also a fundraiser for Parkinson’s disease research, so every sale is a win. That idea also came from Deschner, who has Parkinson’s disease. He told NPR that living with the degenerative condition has taught him one thing: “You have to follow your folly.”

To date, the auctions have raised tens of thousands of dollars and have inspired a sense of good-natured weirdness among Baker City residents, including cattle ranchers Beth and Fred Phillips. 

“We'd like to think our cows are more artistic than they used to be, but, to be honest, they probably aren't,” Beth told NPR.

“They're definitely more artistic than our neighbors’,” added her husband.

All photographs are courtesy of Baker County Tourism.

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Focus Features
25 Shelter Dogs Who Made It Big
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Focus Features

If you’ve been thinking of adding a four-legged friend to your brood and are deciding whether a shelter dog is right for you, consider this: Some of history’s most amazing pooches—from four-legged movie stars to heroic rescue dogs—were found in animal shelters. In honor of Adopt-a-Shelter-Dog Month, here are 25 shelter dogs who made it big.

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This High-Tech Material Can Change Shape Like an Octopus
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Octopuses can do some pretty amazing things with their skin, like “see” light, resist the pull of their own sticky suction cups, and blend in seamlessly with their surroundings. That last part now has the U.S. Army interested, as Co.Design reports. The military branch’s research office has funded the development a new type of morphing material that works like an octopus’s dynamic skin.

The skin of an octopus is covered in small, muscular bumps called papillae that allow them to change textures in a fraction of a second. Using this mechanism, octopuses can mimic coral, rocks, and even other animals. The new government-funded research—conducted by scientists at Cornell University—produced a device that works using a similar principle.

“Technologies that use stretchable materials are increasingly important, yet we are unable to control how they stretch with much more sophistication than inflating balloons,” the scientists write in their study, recently published in the journal Science. “Nature, however, demonstrates remarkable control of stretchable surfaces.”

The membrane of the stretchy, silicone material lays flat most of the time, but when it’s inflated with air, it can morph to form almost any 3D shape. So far, the technology has been used to imitate rocks and plants.

You can see the synthetic skin transform from a two-dimensional pad to 3D models of objects in the video below:

It’s easy to see how this feature could be used in military gear. A soldier’s suit made from material like this could theoretically provide custom camouflage for any environment in an instant. Like a lot of military technology, it could also be useful in civilian life down the road. Co.Design writer Jesus Diaz brings up examples like buttons that appear on a car's dashboard only when you need them, or a mixing bowl that rises from the surface of the kitchen counter while you're cooking.

Even if we can mimic the camouflage capabilities of cephalopods, though, other impressive superpowers, like controlling thousands of powerful suction cups or squeezing through spaces the size of a cherry tomato, are still the sole domain of the octopus. For now.

[h/t Co.Design]


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