If You Can Name It, They Can Sculpt It

An April Fool's Spoof from 'All Things Considered'

The Indigenous Sculpture Society travels around America to celebrate unusual town names with pieces of public art. In Monkey's Eyebrow, Ky., the group is building — what else? — a giant pair of monkey's eyebrows spanning a local highway.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

If you pass through a town with an unusual name today, like Turkey, Texas or Sweet Lips, Tennessee, you may see an unusual sight. Members of the Indigenous Sculpture Society, an international organization that seeks out unusual town names, have been out building outdoor sculptures depicting those odd town names.

To see one of these projects take shape, Naomi Lewin of Cincinnati Public Radio made a pilgrimage to Monkey's Eyebrow, Kentucky.

NAOMI LEWIN: Yes, Virginia, there is a Monkey's Eyebrow, Kentucky. It's not far from Paducah and within spitting distance of Bandana and Big Bone Lake. Across the state, you find Mousy, Soft Shell, and Gravel Switch. Kentucky has more than its fair share of towns with unusual names, so the commonwealth provides plenty of inspiration for the members of the Indigenous Sculpture Society.

At the bend in State Route 473 that is Monkey's Eyebrow, I caught up with Orilla Fop, head of the Indigenous Sculpture Society. She first got involved back in her native England.

Ms. ORILLA FOP (Head, Indigenous Sculpture Society): Well, I'll start at the very beginning. I grew up in Piddletrenthide. Can you believe it? It's a real village on the River Piddle. My parents ran a bed and breakfast there, and when members of the Indigenous Sculpture Society came to the village one year to build a small fountain, they stayed at our inn, oh, and I was just absolutely captivated by their work.

LEWIN: According to Fop, the Society was started by a Norwegian monk.

Ms. FOP: His name was Friar Phelps(ph), and he was born in a town called Hell. Now, when he started traveling abroad, he discovered that the name of his hometown caused quite a bit of a, well, hilarity in English-speaking countries. And he wanted to celebrate that.

Now, he dabbled a bit in the arts as a boy, so when he got back home to Norway, he made an ice sculpture. He carved a giant Beelzebub being consumed by an inferno out of ice - Hell frozen over, if you will.

LEWIN: And so the Indigenous Sculpture Society was born. Here's how it works:

Ms. FOP: We choose a town, and once we've chosen a town, we enlist residents to create sculptures that depict the name of that town. The idea is to make sculptures out of locally available materials, hence the name: Indigenous Sculpture Society.

Now we spent a day in Monkey's Eyebrow constructing a pair of, well, enormous monkey eyebrows, what else?

LEWIN: Mark Funk(ph) is a Kentuckian who got caught up in the Indigenous Sculpture Society when it came to his town, Beaver Dam. He helped recruit the team from Monkey's Eyebrow.

Mr. MARK FUNK (Resident, Monkey's Eyebrow, Kentucky): Boy, I've always liked art. I always thought I might be a sculptor, so I was excited about this project. I tell you, working with that monkey fur - the wet stuff is stinky. Oh.

LEWIN: That's right: monkey fur. The Indigenous Sculpture Society is adamant about working with authentic materials, so the monkey eyebrow sculpture was created out of discarded monkey fur. And because the society wants the materials to be local or as local as possible, to gather enough, they had to enlist help from zoos around the region.

Thane Maynard is director of the Cincinnati Zoo.

Mr. THANE MAYNARD (Director, Cincinnati Zoo): At the Cincinnati Zoo, we have one of the largest monkey collections in the world, with 18 different species. But since most of them are tropical, they stay inside in the winter and don't really need their fur, so our keepers have worked very hard over the last four months to collect three bushels of hair to help with the sculpture.

LEWIN: The monkey hair wasn't the only local ingredient involved.

Mr. MAYNARD: The glue that holds the sculpture together is from the hooves of horses. But don't worry. They weren't killed. These were from blue grass thoroughbreds that had gone on to greener pastures.

LEWIN: Orilla Fop says monkey hair and glue were relatively uncomplicated compared with some of the materials the Society has worked with.

Ms. FOP: Oh my goodness. When we were in Fly, Ohio, we got biology classes at Ohio State University to get fruit flies for us. And we built one giant fly out of thousands of tiny flies.

LEWIN: All day long, cars have been slowing down to stare at the 16-foot-tall simian eyebrows that form double arches over Route 473. They're right next to the sign for the town's only business, the Monkey's Eyebrow Taxidermy Service.

Susanne Haydem(ph) was passing through on her way to Hocking Hills, Ohio.

Ms. SUSANNE HAYDEM(ph): I've never seen a monkey with Andy Rooney eyebrows before.

LEWIN: Haydem may not have been convinced, but most thought the monkey eyebrows were pretty clever. Every once in a while, though, a sculpture does kind of backfire. Last year, the Indigenous Sculpture Society traveled to Elephant Butt, New Mexico - or so they thought.

Bob Barnes is the mayor of Elephant Butte, population 1,600. He had to break the news to Orilla and her group.

Mayor BOB BARNES (Elephant Butte, New Mexico): You know, that was not an easy thing to do because she had spent a lot of time and made a lot of effort to come to Elephant Butt, so I had to explain to her what a butte was. And I had to get into some geology of the area, and it does look like an elephant butt, but it's called Butte - it has an E on the end of it. B-U-T-T-E.

LEWIN: Still, Barnes didn't want to discourage the publicity for his town, a small lake resort, so he told Society members to come on down. He also helped them come up with a substitute for their original sculpting material of choice: elephant manure.

Mayor BARNES: I said, Orilla, there is no elephants in this area. We are a desert community, and the elephants roam in the jungle in Africa and in India. And I explained to her that we're desert dwellers, we're used to improvising. We could bake elephant dung from mixing sand and cactus needles.

LEWIN: It looked surprisingly authentic. These days, Orilla Fop is thinking big. The Indigenous Sculpture Society has plans underway to create simultaneous pieces in four towns on a single day: in Two Egg, Florida; Bacon, Indiana; Toast, North Carolina; and Hot Coffee, Mississippi.

Ms. FOP: It's our answer to Judy Chicago's "The Dinner Party." We call it "The Breakfast Buffet."

LEWIN: For NPR News, I'm Naomi Lewin in Monkey's Eyebrow, Kentucky.

ELLIOTT: That's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.

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