The practically sacred butter cow at the Ohio State Fair, a fixture dating back to 1903, had an equally dairy-themed rival this year during the 12-day celebration of all things Buckeye that concluded Aug. 3.
Carly the Cow was created by 32 Beechcroft High School students from more than 10,000 8-ounce milk cartons, with the help of Westerville paper artist and collector Jaime Benatti under the guidance of English teacher Antonia Mulvihill.
The display at the fair, and possibly at elementary schools during the coming academic year, is intended to bring awareness to the environment and recycling.
Carly serves to "embody the need for more awareness of items we throw away daily," according to a Tumblr page the Beechcroft juniors and seniors created for the project.
"As a teacher, it's always great when you can take a text, fiction or nonfiction, and bring it to life for the kids," Mulvihill said last week.
After students in her classes read some articles about the environment, Mulvihill applied to the Wexner Center for the Arts' Art in Action Program and the collaboration with Benatti came about.
"My goal was to go in there and teach them, but also get them directly involved in their school with collecting and reusing materials," said Benatti, who plans to move soon from Westerville to Victorian Village.
After looking around at just how much trash was being generated at Beechcroft High on a daily basis, Mulvihill said the students had a design contest to propose new uses for these materials.
"We had no idea where any of this would go," she said.
Jason Rojas came up with the idea of a cow made from the school-sized milk cartons.
"The class was really struck with this idea," Mulvihill said.
"That was the most popular design, so from there, we started building it," Benatti said. "I guess the project could have gone in a whole other direction.
"For me, I really wanted the students to drive the idea. I wanted them to have control over what the final piece became. I wanted it to be a real collaboration."
Once Carly the Cow existed on paper, the students worked with Benatti to create her for real at Benatti's studio in a Franklinton warehouse.
"All of the work building her happened after the school year ended," Mulvihill noted.
She added that it was inspiring to her to see these students, some of whom had already graduated, working long hours for no grade.
"It was very, very heartening and gratifying to see the students become this involved," Mulvihill said.
"I just saw them take on leadership roles," Benatti said. "It was really a lot of on-the-spot problem-solving. I think it made the piece that much more successful that we had that many brains trying to figure it out."
Washing the milk cartons -- some of which were collected by students at Devonshire Elementary School -- as well as designing the cow, forming the building blocks and wiring the whole thing together took hundreds of hours, according to an announcement from Columbus Public Schools.
Benatti admitted this was her first cow-themed artistic endeavor, and certainly a much larger piece than most.
"I usually work smaller," she said.