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Monday, February 1, 2016

Pep Art

College football Pep Art--quite a rowdy looking group
Aunt Annie's blue pretzels
Virtually everyone has heard of Pop Art. Let me be the first to coin a new kind of art. I call it Pep Art. Everybody has seen it in one form or another. It's been around in one form or another for about a hundred years (maybe longer if you want to stretch the definition a little). If you haven't guessed by now, I'm talking about the arts and crafts of creating live action mascots. As for the definition, it's an animal or costumed person intended to bring luck to its sponsor. You may have noticed that I've not mentioned the fact that most mascots have to do with sports teams. Even elementary sports teams now days sometimes have mascots at their games. From there it goes straight up through the ranks to professional sports. But, I should also point out that such mascots are not limited to sports. Corporations have mascots too, such as Aunt Annie's blue pretzels (above, left). Just why they're blue, is beyond me.

The Oregon Ducks mascot was, of course, designed and crafted by Disney.
Big Al, the charging elephant
of the University of Alabama.
Mascots are customarily born in a design studio, professional, amateur, or in the case of colleges, probably in-house. Very often the college team may have a nickname nearly as old as the college itself. The University of Alabama has long been referred to as the Crimson Tide. That doesn't suggest any possibility for a team mascot. Thus, they chose a charging elephant known as Big Al. But in most cases, the school's official name or it's nickname suggests some type of human or animal image. Despite their powerful mascot, the team has not come to be known as the "Big Als" However, that's not the case with the Oregon Ducks, of the University of Oregon. They now use Donald Duck as their mascot, though the Ducks nickname goes back to the 1920s, long before Walt hatched Donald. Disney did, however license, design, and craft the costume (above). Unlike Big Al, the hapless Donald Duck is not likely to strike fear into the hearts of the team's opponents.

I think they're supposed to be woodchucks, or groundhogs, but they're sometimes known as simply as Chucks, Wood-shocks, Groundpigs, Whistlers, Thickwood Badgers, Canada Marmots, Monax, Moonacks, Weenusks, and the Red Monks.
Big Al and his avian counterpart, despite their differences, have one thing in common. Sports of all types have as their prime purpose that of entertaining their fans--whether soccer moms or dyed-in-the-wool pro football fanatics. Cheerleaders, and more recently, the growing gaggle of costumed mascots are part of that team effort to entertain by winning. Winning boosts the team (or school) image as well as fan morale. But the game does not go on without interruptions. That's especially the case with baseball, as compared to the tense sport of basketball. The job of the mascot is to basically "keep the ball rolling" when the team take a time out. More often than not, this involves comedy antics. Thus the good mascot need not be fearsome so much as funny. Some have been known to indulge in the ludicrous in this effort, even to the point of bad taste and sexual harassment. Though most mascots are theoretically male, some also have a female counterparts (above).  

The designer's input. (Probably some that didn't "make it".)
Mascots are seldom the creative endeavor of a single individual. The logo designer is usually not the costume designer, who is usually not the pattern maker or the one who pads and puts it all together; and certainly not the comedic show-off wearing the get-up (most such individual see through the mouth of their costumes). Mascot costumes evolve. Some are even cooled inside by battery operated fans. In any case, what looks really cool on paper, may not, in fact work at all on the field. The human being inside has to be able to see, move, and communicate visually. A costume, no matter how creative, which hampers any of those functions goes back to the drawing board and or at least to the costume shop (often a university's theater department). Creating such outfit is a job for professionals, or on rare occasions, highly talented amateurs. There are even businesses which specialize in creating such things. Below is a sampling of their work. Some are pretty lame. Others border on sheer genius.

Sometimes the nature of the beasts are somewhat ambiguous. I especially liked the
 artichoke which has apparently swallowed up Mickey Mouse.
Likely not a team mascot, but someone went to a
lot of trouble just to be kicked of the field.



  1. It is an artichoke not an avocado.

  2. Bryan--
    Thanks for keeping me in good standing with all my vegetarian readers. I've changed it. I forgot, Avocados hate the taste of mice.