The price of pork is going up in Oak Park.
Seventeen pigs were sold in the village last Sunday at an average cost of about $918. However, these weren’t the type of swine that roll around in the mud and gobble down slop from a trough.
The 17 pig sculptures, on display since June throughout The Avenue Business District, were sold in an auction Sunday at Pleasant Home for a total of $15,600. The statues went for anywhere from $300 to $1,650.
Expert Oak Park auctioneer Jim Bohenstengel was in top form Sunday, displaying his wit and charisma with the small crowd. Repeatedly when a pig sold for a large sum he’d exclaim, “The price of pork just went up folks.”
Wisecracks flowed freely throughout the auction. Before the bidding started, Bohenstengel announced, “This is the finest group of pigs I’ve seen in Oak Park in two or three years,” to a chorus of laughs.
The auctioneer also had his own ideas for what type of figurine could be displayed along the Avenue district for future fundraising projects.
“Next year … instead of pigs, they’re going to have fiberglass nude statues of Ernest Hemingway. Everybody will be invited to come and paint their favorite part,” he said.
Bohenstengel used various tactics to get hesitant bidders to get involved, all of which involved humor.
“Hey folks you can bid, hold your hand up,” he remarked to anyone in the audience who might have forgotten, or “remember we take charge cards, etc,” to anyone with just cash or without their wallet.
The auctioneer also got creative with his methods, saying one pig would “make a wonderful footstool” and trying to get a woman to shell out another $50 for a pig by comparing the extra cost to 10 Happy Meals. He tried reminding the audience that there was plenty of booze left that might help them loosen up and bid more. He also tried to capitalize on a sneezing woman in the audience when bidding was slow, only at $200 at the time, remarking, “God bless you. Was that a bid or a sneeze? You just bought it for $2,000 dear.”
Bohenstengel also joked about the blank pig sold at the auction that a buyer could paint with whatever design he or she liked. Architect John Schiess, who designed one of the pigs, wasn’t present at the moment when his pig, named “From Russia With Love,” was introduced.
“Boy he was real creative,” Bohenstengel said when the sculpture was first put in front of him for auctioning. “John where are you? Would somebody tell John we sold him his pig back for $20,000. Hold that one back, we’re going to see if he comes, he’s not going to get away with this.
Attendees of the auction had varying reasons for why they decided to purchase a pig. Jean Divane of River Forest bought “The Shamrock Shopper,” the most expensive pig of the afternoon because she thought it would go along with her farm, Irish Acres, in Wisconsin.
“These are the best kind of animals you could possibly have,” said Divane. “You don’t have to feed or clean up after them. She’ll fit in just perfect.”
Oak Parker Chris Ritten, 44, brought along his triplet 7-year-old daughters who all picked out their favorite pig. The Rittens didn’t end up with one they chose but were happy to walk away with any pig and glad the money was going to a good cause.
“We saw them around town all summer, and we thought it’d be cool to have one, plus we’ve never been to an auction before,” said Ritten. “My daughters love it, but they think it’s probably going to scare the dog.”
Todd Kitzinger, 40, of Oak Park also came with a couple of pigs in mind after admiring the sculptures since June. His son was especially captivated by the pieces of art, and they both thought the food-themed “Perfect Pig-Out” fit in with their passion for eating.
“He just kind of lit up when he saw them,” Kitzinger said of his son’s reaction to the pigs. “And we like this one because we love to eat; Italian is one of our favorites, and it has that theme too.”
Local artists designed and painted the pigs as part of the Pig Parade on the Avenue, a fundraising project put together by the Avenue Business District of Oak Park, which includes Oak Park Avenue from Ontario Street to Pleasant Street, Lake Street, and North and South Boulevard. The proceeds go toward the Hephzibah Children’s Association and the Oak Park Area Arts Council, as well as toward stipends for Pig Parade artists and the Avenue Business Association to help underwrite the costs of the project.
Afterwards, Nick Gambino, owner of Cucina Paradiso Restaurant and chairperson of the event, said he was pleased with the way the event turned out and thought it was a great learning experience. He also believed that the event was successful in its original purpose of contributing something back to the people that support businesses along the Avenue Business District.
“We were trying to come up with ideas to get people to come shop at The Avenue District, and we wanted to give back to the community that helps us,” said Gambino. “Part of being a good business is giving back to the community.”
Auctioneer Bohenstengel was delighted with the way things turned out at the end of the afternoon. He said there was skepticism from some of the people arranging the event, but things couldn’t have gone better.
“I’m very excited about the local participation. It was a very nice crowd, quiet and attentive, and they picked up on some of my offbeat humor,” Bohenstengel said. “It was a real pleasure to do the auction and visit with so many old friends.”