December 18, 2010 by Robin Plaskoff Horton
Dung bunnies happen. These were borne out of Denver artist Susan Bell’s quandary about what to do with the copious quantities of manure produced by her two horses. Bell, a painter, was inspired when former New York City Mayor Giuliani’s spoke out against Artist Chris Ofili’s dung-encrusted elephant sculpture of the Virgin Mary. She and her artist friends “were laughing about how all the shock art today is just (manure) anyway. And I got an idea,” Bell said. “I thought, ‘I’m going to do some (manure) art of my own.”‘
Horse manure is a particularly effective fertilizer for roses, Bell says, but one of her clients notes that the dung bunnies work on everything from bushes to indoor plants.
“They make all the difference in the world to my plants. My roses absolutely love them. Their blossoms are brighter and last longer,” says Virginia Potter of Oklahoma City. Potter bought a dung bunny a few years ago when visiting her daughter in Colorado, and since has purchased another dozen for herself and friends. “I even put them in my house plants because they don’t have an odor, and they’re attractive. They draw attention.” Potter says scattering a few dung bunnies throughout her yard makes gardening easier. “We have clay soil here, so it’s hard to fertilize. The dung bunnies save a lot of trouble and time.”
Bell worked for months to develop a dung-bunny prototype. Although she’s an artist, her usual medium is paint. She researched sculpting techniques and finally developed a plasticine mold that would work with manure, then searched for the right manure consistency to fill the mold. Because horses digest only about 20 percent of the grass they eat,” explained Bell, “their manure contains so much plant material it’s like adobe.” But she discovered Fresh manure, she discovered was too hot to mold well and then there was the odor factor.
On her 2 1/2-acre Greenwood Village property, Bell fills a set of wire mesh compost bins with horse manure and turns the mixture a couple times a year. After about two years, the compost is odor-free and ready for sculpting.
Bell makes about 30 dung sculptures a week. One of most interesting, a “dung couple,” is modeled after a traditional wedding centerpiece. Personally, I wouldn’t put it on top of a cake. “People buy it as a divorce gift,” she says. “It’s kind of a metaphor for a marriage–if you leave it out in the rain, it will decompose much faster than if you keep it protected.”
Through the artist, Susan Bell
Hat tip to Denver Post.