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OKI Wanna Know: How Many Flying Pigs Went To Market, How Many Stayed Home?

Bill Rinehart
Champigne hangs above the door at Jean-Robert's Table.

Our latest edition of OKI Wanna Know seeks to answer a question about some things that have been around for so long, and are so common, you might not even notice them any more.  How many flying pig statues still exist in the Cincinnati area? 

Jorden Messner of Mount Auburn moved to Cincinnati about five years ago, and right away noticed a plethora of pigs. 

"Whenever I would drive around I'd see these huge statues of flying pigs decorating the outside of businesses and restaurants and even some houses."

Messner says he did a little bit of research on his own and learned about Cincinnati's porcine history. "But I've kind of wondered how many of these flying statues are there around the city and when did the whole decoration with flying pigs get started?"

The statues were part of The Big Pig Gig. Artworks' Senior Director of Communications Melissa Currence says the public art project started in the year 2000. "It really took inspiration from the Chicago public art program that happened in 1999 called Cow Parade."

A second grader from St. Gertrude's in Madeira gets some of the credit for the Gig. Alexander Longi wrote to then-Mayor Roxanne Qualls about the Cow Parade and suggested Cincinnati follow suit, but with pigs. His letter appeared in Laura Pulfer's Enquirer column and got people talking.  

Credit Bill Rinehart / WVXU
Pig Brother's Watching You used to live at Media Bridges, but now has a home at Cincinnati Educational Television.

So Cincinnati went with pigs. "They were fiberglass. And they provided those to the artists," Currence says. "Some of them painted on them, others reconfigured the fiberglass and created different designs."

But - Wait A Second. Before We Go Any Further: Why Pigs?

One of Cincinnati's many nicknames is Porkopolis. Jill Beitz, manager of reference and research at the Cincinnati History Library and Archives says the city was processing a lot of pork in the mid-19th century. At any given time, she says, there could be thousands of pigs driven through city streets, on the way to or from market or processing plant. She says George Jones of the Cincinnati branch of the Second National Bank liked to brag about the city's industry.

"He spoke so enthusiastically about the pork business to a man in Liverpool that the man sent him two paper maché hogs with the inscription 'To George Jones, as the worthy representative of Porkopolis,' " she says.

Beitz says while it may have been meant to be a poke, Cincinnatians embraced it.  

Artworks' Melissa Currence says there were 400 pigs crafted for the Gig. "They showcased them all summer. Then they auctioned them off at the end of the year," she says. "I think we auctioned off a little over 200 of the pigs at the time. Some of the corporate sponsors of pigs or people who sponsored pigs decided to keep their pigs. Some were auctioned to support non-profits and charitable causes and others were kept for private collections."

More pigs came later. Currence says through a partnership with the Cincinnati Chamber in 2012, another 100 were designed and set free during the World Choir Games.

At least one person is trying to find out how many statues still exist. Jon Rock runs an Instagram account where he posts his finds.

Credit Bill Rinehart / WVXU
ArtWorks produced a field guide in 2000 for pig spotters.

"In terms of finding them around the city, you can go by what people post on the internet," he says. "Mostly driving around, seeing things. I'll get text messages sometimes from friends, or frequently my wife. She'll find one and send me a picture." 

Rock says the pandemic has slowed his search, but his New Year's resolution is to post a new pig picture every week. Some have been touched up, and some completely repainted. "Those are kind of my favorites. If I can I try to figure out what pig it was originally, who's painted it, who's bought it, what it looked like when it was new in 2000, and who painted it then and what it's doing today."

So the big question is: How many of the 500 pig statues still exist? Rock says he knows of 59.    

"If you really made a search... I've got another five or six that I've heard about but haven't actually gone and verified are there... but I'm really suspicious if you did a really good search and got a lot of tips, and went through all the neighborhoods in Cincinnati, you could probably find up to a hundred."

Rock says he owns seven statues himself. He buys them when they come up on eBay, or Everything But the House and Craigslist.  One he bought from Florida, and he's sure there are others away from home. "Somebody had a brother who moved to California and has it in his foyer in his house outside Los Angeles. People bought them when they were here and then they moved. They packed them up and took them with them."

Rock is still looking. He'll take tips and information on the current location of statues on his Instagram page, Big Pig Gig.

And if you have a question for OKI Wanna Know, fill out the form below or let us know here, and we may try to answer it.

Bill Rinehart started his radio career as a disc jockey in 1990. In 1994, he made the jump into journalism and has been reporting and delivering news on the radio in markets including Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska; Sioux City, Iowa; Dayton, Ohio; and most recently as senior correspondent and anchor for Cincinnati’s WLW-AM.