Tonia Lee’s painted cow took first place in the Lucerne Art of Dairy contest in 2006. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

Tonia Lee’s painted cow took first place in the Lucerne Art of Dairy contest in 2006. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

Of the Keizertimes

Tonia Lee was a sophomore at McNary High School when her entry in a national competition to paint a plaster cow garnered the school, the artist and a teacher $2,500 in prizes. This winter, her art is giving new meaning to the phrase “art that moves.”

“I had been in the library a number of times and saw the cow, and Jeanne (Woodley) said the school was looking for a new home for it,” said Steve Cox, the Salem-Keizer School District’s library media coordinator. “I said we’d love to have it as a way to promote reading and promote literature.”

The life-sized canvas will now tour the Salem-Keizer School District as the Read Now Cow.

“We’re thinking she’ll move to a new school every couple of months. When she moves on, she’ll leave behind a bucket of books that are tied to our common core curriculum,” Cox said.

Lee’s cow was selected for first prize in Lucerne’s The Art of Dairy contest in 2006. She narrowly missed grand prize status. Lucerne is Safeway’s dairy product line. Each year thousands of entries are submitted for the competition and a limited few (20 to 30) are given the chance to bring their project to life. The Celts’ former two-dimensional art teacher, Connie Toland, brought the project to her students. After Lee’s winning entry, student Ali Zuro was selected to paint a cow in 2011, but it did not catch the eyes of the judges in the same way. Due to budget cuts, Toland was reassigned within the district less than a year later.

After the competitions, the school was allowed to keep both cows. Lee’s took up residence in the school library and Zuro’s is in the Ken Collins Auditorium.

“Our high school students get excited to see this cow even though it just sits in the corner,” Woodley, McNary librarian, said. “A few have tried to ride her, but even those kids have been very careful with her.”

Lee’s take on the theme was to depict Africa’s Watusi tribe’s near god-like adulation of the bovine set.

Current head of the McNary art department Mark Kohley knew Lee as a student in only one of his classes, but said she displayed the craftsmanship beyond reproach for her age at the time.

The first stop on the Read Now Cow’s list was supposed to be Hayesville Elementary School, but busted pipes caused by frigid temperatures closed the school on Monday, Dec. 9, when the piece left McNary.

Instead, the cow was delivered to another Keizer school, Forest Ridge Elementary, when she’ll make her home for the next few months.