Cheese-y art project stirs up bit of stink

Posted: Thursday, October 18, 2001

POWELL, Wyo. -- New York artist Cosimo Cavallaro aims the hose connected to the heated vat of pepperjack cheese and -- whoosh! -- sprays the bedroom in a vacant little house with yellow splotches.

Welcome to the Wyoming Cheese House, the latest project for an artist who lays claim to having covered a hotel room and the model Twiggy in cheese and who talks about the product in poetic language that can change one's view of cheese forever.

Cavallaro is here, in this north Wyoming farming community of 5,373, because he found the state's name beautiful. And because, in Powell, he found a house ready for demolition that would suit this project.

''Why I'm doing it is totally my journey in my life and doesn't have anything to do with anything else. I can't manipulate how people view it,'' he said.

And views here are quite varied.

Sharon Earhart, the executive director of the Powell Chamber of Commerce, sees the project as fun, a bit silly and reason enough for a parade. She's involved in ''Cheesefest,'' scheduled Oct. 27 with the local harvest celebration and expected to feature a parade and a cheese king and queen.

Jim Montoya, a neighbor, sees it as a nuisance that could attract not only mice and birds but also more people to what he says is a normally quiet neighborhood. Onlookers were cruising by -- and peering in -- fairly regularly Tuesday as the large blocks of cheese were softened in the yard.

And Bob Mueller sees the project as a mistake that could make Powell a laughingstock.

Besides, he said, ''I don't consider painting something with food art.''

Cavallaro, who has worked with a range of media, explains his interest in cheese this way: ''It's milk. It's life.''

''The house is beautiful. ... It screams, 'Just do something for me before I die,''' Cavallaro said.

With some help, Cavallaro began on this chilly autumn day to melt down the cheese, which has been lined up outside the house. Creating something of a cheese slicer from wire, he and his helpers cut off chunks -- whitish-yellow and dotted with red and green -- that were placed in barrels surrounded by water that was being heated.

Cavallaro said he planned to use about 12,000 pounds of cheese, which aides said was not suitable to eat.

Application of the cheese began Tuesday afternoon, as a pump sent it through a hose and spurting into the house. As it hit the brown walls, floral-print curtain, windows and other things, the cheese gave off a warm, pleasant aroma.

Mayor Jim Milburn was one of a number of people who stopped for a peek. ''It looks like a work in progress,'' he said early on. ''I didn't really have a concept of what to expect. The color gives it a nice texture.''

Montoya wasn't impressed. ''It sure doesn't look like art, and I have a feeling it's going to smell,'' he said. It may not have been so bad, he said, ''if it was not 12 feet from my bed.''

Laura Scarbro, who lives nearby, said she had concerns at first but has come to accept the project.

''The house is going to be destroyed so why not do something with it?'' she said.

Among the items in the house were a soft chair on well-worn living room carpeting, a table, beat-up refrigerator, blue toilet and a ripped sofa, from which Cavallaro gave interviews Monday. Then, he spoke of taking an entire environment, like a room, and turning it into art.

His vision through the art, he said, ''is beauty.''

Earhart said Cavallaro's project and resulting media coverage gives city leaders a chance to showcase Powell as a possible attraction for families and new businesses.

Demolition of the house, which has been vacant for some time, is scheduled to begin about Nov. 1, Milburn said.


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