The Happy Cow is a children’s wallpaper designed by the celebrated German artist, Otmar Alt, for the “Xartwall” collection of wallpapers produced by Marburger Tapentenfabrik in the 1970s. The paper features a goofy cow made up of amorphous, puzzle-like blocks of bold primary colors. She floats atop a pink polka dotted background that looks like a close-up of cupcake frosting. The cow is quite abstract, her spotted udder the only real clue of phenotypical identity.

Though this bright paper was ostensibly meant to engage the imagination of young children, The Happy Cow also catered to adults’ desires to display fine art in their homes. In the mid twentieth century, wallpaper manufacturers began to solicit designs from famous contemporary artists. People who appreciated contemporary art, but could not necessarily afford an original piece could get the next best thing by decorating their home in high quality, artist-designed papers. Henri Matisse, Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein all took the opportunity to market their work to the middle class via wallpaper.

Anna Rasche is a student in the History of Decorative Arts & Design graduate Program at the Cooper Hewitt, and is a Master’s Fellow in the Wallcoverings Department.

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