Parks Trust U-turn after concrete cow artist Liz Leyh backs bovines’ skeletal look

Artist Liz Leyh with the cows in 1978
Artist Liz Leyh with the cows in 1978

THE artist behind the concrete cows has given her blessing to plans for the Bancroft bovines to become a community art project.

Liz Leyh, who created the cows in 1978 when she was artist in residence to Milton Keynes, emailed the Citizen to say how pleased she was to see people taking ownership of them again.

Concrete cows been painted as Skeletons

Concrete cows been painted as Skeletons

And the Canadian born artist added that a skeletal new look given to the cows last week is ‘fabulous’.

The cows at Bancroft, which are replicas of the original sculptures (which are currently homed in Midsummer Place), were painted as skeletons last Tuesday night.

Custodians, The Parks Trust, indicated it could cost as much as £2,000 to restore them to their original state, prompting MP Mark Lancaster to suggest they could be used by people ‘to paint in a controlled manner’.

The idea from the member for Milton Keynes North mirrored a number of suggestions made by Citizen readers on our Facebook site.

Concrete cows been painted as Skeletons

Concrete cows been painted as Skeletons

The Trust originally said such a project was not feasible as it would tarnish Ms Leyh’s original work.

But after the artist herself backed the changes, it has said it will be giving ‘serious consideration’ to the proposal.

In her email, Ms Leyh, who worked as MK artist in residence from 1974-78, wrote: “What a pleasure to see a photo of the ‘concrete cows’ turned into skeletons.

“Because of the many repairs they’ve had over the years, they looked very unlike the original animals and more like hippopotami!

“What an original and effective design! With the black background hiding their silhouettes they look quite fabulous.

“They were originally made by and for the community and it is very heartening to again see people showing ownership of them.

“Congratulations to the artists who designed and painted the skeletal cows with humour and ingenuity! I’m sure everyone involved in making the originals in 1978 would gladly agree with me.”

Earlier this week, Mr Lancaster said: “Actually I like what has been done to the concrete cows.

“I think that instead of painting over them, given they have been painted over several times before, we should look at the potential of using them as a community art space for people to paint and decorate in a controlled manner.

“It would also have the benefit that money would not need to be used to re-paint them.”

And his sentiments were echoed by readers commenting on our Facebook page.

Deborah Lewis wrote: “They should be re-painted for Xmas, Easter, summer. Not only does it keep them fresh and original, it makes people want to go and see them,” while Zita Middleton said: “Why not make use of them and hold competitions to decorate them.”

The cows at Bancroft are copies – sculpted by Milton Keynes artist Bill Billings – of the original cows, which were moved to safer pastures to avoid them being damaged.

Over the years the Bancroft bovines have been painted pink, dressed in pyjamas and even beheaded.

The Parks Trust originally said it was its responsibility to restore them to Ms Leyh’s original vision.

On Monday, a spokesman said: “We actively encourage people into the parks to visit all our artworks – but request that they respect them so that everyone can enjoy them. The concrete cows were created for Milton Keynes Development Corporation by artist Liz Leyh and, as their custodians, it is our responsibility to restore them to her original vision.”

But following Ms Leyh’s email, the Trust said it would be considering working towards a community art project.

Head of Community Engagement at the Trust, Briony Serginson, said: “It’s really interesting to see Liz Leyh’s comments.

“We’ve been trying to get in touch with her ourselves and once we’ve had a conversation with her we’ll give serious consideration to how we might develop a community art project around the cows.”

She added that whatever the decision the cows would not be re-painted until Spring.