For a celebration that embraces artwork made with maggots, having a horse with a painted representation of musculature and skeletal structures is a comparably tame Picnic Day staple.
The brightly painted steed has been part of the local festival for more than 10 of its 99 years of running. It’s part artistry and part textbook anatomy done by Josephine Trott, an assistant project scientist in the department of animal science at UC Davis.
This year, the animal-turned-palette was displayed in a pen outside the Cole Facility, part of the entertainment and educational exhibits for a line of patrons who were eager to see cow milking and insemination practices first-hand.
A day of perfect weather — 80-something degrees and a light breeze — drew an estimated 55,000 attendees to the university’s annual student-run open house. Early reports from the police also indicated it was a relatively trouble-free day.
Rich Shintaku, associate vice chancellor of student affairs, said the crowd size was perfect for the more than 200 events that filled all corners of the campus, from the parade to Frisbee-catching pooches, from the Battle of the Bands to baseball.
“So far, it has really surpassed our expectations,” Shintaku said as events wound down at about 5 p.m. “I’ve seen and heard a lot of good things from the people in attendance today.
“My only disappointment, on a personal level, is that the Doxie Derby was so crowded I couldn’t get in,” he added with a laugh.
Back at the Cole Facility, Russ Hovey, Trott’s fiancé and a UCD professor, elicited giggles from the crowd Saturday afternoon by allowing the horse to gulp down some of his soda, before sipping it himself. And it was not a diet soda, as Trott had said earlier that the horse was looking “bony” enough. (Insert comedy rimshot here.)
Between the occasional gag, Trott recited answers to curious onlookers. Commonly, questions regarded the horse’s breed: Morgan; its gender: male; his name: Fred; and what she used to draw on him: mostly chalk, and some paint for the whites.
Most children, besides the mischievous bunch using the horse’s pen as a jungle gym, preferred to spectate from afar. They clung tightly to their parents, mouths agape at the size of the beast and the colorful arrangement of his large torso.
One little girl worked up courage enough to approach, and apprehensively reached a hand outward for a quick pet. All she got in return from the horse was a snort, and face full of saliva when a gust of wind arched the spray in her direction.
The plentiful Picnic Day turnout was especially apparent for those at some of the more popular attractions, like the Chemistry Magic Show. Alan Sweger and his family, which includes two UCD students, were among the many who braved the long line for tickets.
“Well, I’ve seen half of the parade, and the rest of the time we’ve been in this line. … Besides that, it’s been great,” Sweger said.
Another crowd-pleaser, Kemper Hall’s laser maze, was an early sellout.
Davis resident Dennis Carlson and family took the low-key approach to the day: ”We’ve decided to take it easy this year. We prefer that to doing the all-day thing and predictably ending with frustration and tears,” he jested.
And Carlson’s favorite part of the day? “Seeing the mayor (Joe Krovoza) on a unicycle during the parade.”
Also relaxed were troublemakers, apparently. At 5 p.m., UCD Police Chief Matt Carmichael reported that there had been only 15 citations on campus, mostly alcohol-related, and two arrests for public intoxication. Four medical transports were called to campus.
Carmichael saw it as an improvement over recent Picnic Days. Given the number of people, he said, there couldn’t have been a better outcome in the attempt to preserve the safety and family-oriented aspects of the festival.
Davis police Lt. Paul Doroshov wasn’t ready to comment on the trouble that may occur off campus as the carousing spilled into the streets of downtown in the evening.
The spectacle and the party vibe that goes along with Picnic Day isn’t really what being a UCD student is like, said Jake Blackketter, a junior majoring in community development.
But, he said, it sure is a good time.
“I would say, though, that (Picnic Day) does sort of capture some of the friendliness and openness that goes along with being a student here,” Blackketter added. “People come in from everywhere for this, and they see how welcoming we are to others.”
— Reach Brett Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8052. Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterBrett