Lucas — It’s the world’s largest cow hairball, and Erika Nelson is getting ready to go on television to talk about it with Conan O’Brien.
Nelson is a Lucas-based artist and educator who for the past decade has been working on a project entitled “The World’s Largest Collection of the World’s Smallest Versions of the World’s Largest Things.”
Each year, Nelson drives along back roads of the U.S. to look for unique roadside attractions of large-scale items that have included the world’s largest ball of twine in Cawker City, the world’s largest ball of popcorn in Sac City, Iowa, and the world’s largest bottle of ketchup in Collinsville, Ill.
Nelson takes numerous photos of the attraction, then meticulously makes tiny replicas of it out of plastic, clay or from existing models she alters to her specifications. She then returns to the original location and photographs her small replicas alongside the huge originals.
A list of the hundreds of models Nelson has created based on these diverse original attractions can be found on her website, www.worldslargestthings.com.
It was Nelson’s website that prompted an e-mail from the producer of Conan O’Brien’s late night talk show, “Conan.”
“His producer was googling ‘world’s largest’ when my website came up,” Nelson said. “He e-mailed me in October, talked to me, and then said he wanted to feature me on the show.”
After Nelson sent the producer videos of previous television programs and documentaries she had appeared on (”to prove I could talk to people,” Nelson said), the producer pitched it to O’Brien.
“Conan said yes,” Nelson said.
Conan on Wednesday
Nelson will be in Los Angeles this week to appear on Wednesday’s “Conan” program.
Nelson, who is scheduled to be interviewed between comic actor Jack Black and a performance by blues guitarist Jimmie Vaughan, said she’s not that nervous about talking with O’Brien.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Nelson said. “Conan has fun with his guests, and he’s not scared to make a fool of himself. I’ll just roll with it.”
Nelson plans to bring a producer-approved sampling of her small versions of large things onto the show to talk about with O’Brien.
“Those all have good stories with them,” she said.
Nelson said she wanted to bring Kansas into the conversation by talking about the Cawker City ball of twine on the show, but the producer told her it was too well known.
So Nelson told him about the cow hairball in Garden City.
Cows groom like cats
As it turns out, cows groom themselves much like cats and produce hairballs that are discovered only after the unfortunate beast has been through a slaughterhouse. Some time ago, a large spherical ball of hair was taken from a cow’s innards in Garden City. The hairball apparently was so impressive that it was placed in the city’s historical society museum, Nelson said.
“It’s actually pretty disgusting,” she said.
So Nelson created a smaller hairball made of cat fur that she called “equally disgusting.”
“I’m going after the ‘ick’ factor on that one,” she said.
Other possible topics for conversation might be the ketchup bottle and popcorn ball, along with the largest Santa Claus (from Santa Claus, Ind., naturally) and the largest donut, sitting atop Randy’s Donuts by the Los Angeles Airport and featured in countless movies and TV shows.
“I don’t expect we’ll get to all of them,” Nelson said.
When not making small versions of the world’s largest things, Nelson is a guest lecturer and educator on college campuses, mentors high school art students, works on mural projects for the Smoky Hill River Festival and the Kansas Community Mural Project in Newton. She’s also a member of the Kansas Art Commission’s Artists on Tour program, presenting art programs and workshops throughout the state.
In September, Nelson received a $2,000 Artist Innovation Grant from the Kansas Arts Commission, which Nelson plans to use to take welding classes from Mullinville-based folk sculptor M.T. Liggett.
Just wandering aimlessly
Although wanderlust is in her DNA, Nelson has made Lucas her home base for nearly 10 years -- she’s even bought a house there.
“Lucas is like Norman Rockwell meets ‘Twin Peaks,’ “ she said. “It’s homey with quirky qualities. I feel like I fit in well there.”
Nelson will arrive in Los Angeles in her “art car,” a small truck with astroturf flames, plastic dinosaurs sinking into “tarpits” and a mural of the world’s largest things on the sides.
“It could make an appearance on the show,” she said. “Maybe I’ll get to park it onstage.”
It also will be a working trip for Nelson. While driving through the southwest, she’ll be on the lookout for new roadside attractions and more exhibits of the world’s largest things to shrink into her own unique artworks.
“That’s what I’ll be doing for Christmas," she said. "Sleeping in a tent and wandering aimlessly.”