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Dillon Markey, who makes sculptures out of steel wire, has had mixed results selling his artwork in Eastern Market in past summers. His three-dimensional renderings of human faces, inspired by Alexander Calder’s work at the National Gallery of Art, have done fairly well, he says. But his figurines of animals used to be less successful.
So this year, Markey began to focus his efforts on elephants and donkeys, and added “Party Animals” to his homemade price list. “I saw the Party Animals around and thought they would sell,” Markey says. So far, he says, he’s sold about 75 of the curvy mini-fauna, which stand 2-and-a-half inches high, for $7 apiece.
Taking a break from crafting figures of a bride and groom, Markey unspools some wire and starts molding a pocket-sized pachyderm. It took 10 minutes to make the sculptures when he began, he says, but he now needs less than two minutes to twist the silver wire into recognizable form. A small child is instantly able to identify it: “An elephant.”
“The elephants sell a lot better because they’re cuter,” Markey says. “People think the donkeys look like dogs.”
Shoppers in Eastern Market can also find photographs of Party Animals for sale. None of the donkey and elephant merchandise at the market is authorized by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, which holds copyrights on the Party Animals name and logo, and on each animal’s artwork. The commission sells its own official Party Animals gear, including T-shirts, posters, and tote bags, with the proceeds going to grant programs.
Party Animals project manager Alexandra J. MacMaster says that the commission has granted some people permission to use the animals’ images for personal purposes, such as invitations. But commercial sales are another matter.
“I don’t like the phrase ‘shut down,’” MacMaster says—but when the commission learns about unauthorized vendors, it asks them to stop. “If you go to Disney, they’re not going to let you copy Mickey Mouse,” she says. —Josh Levin