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Largest/smallest Lucas artist on 'Conan' tonight

LUCAS — It's the world's largest cow hair ball, 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 or 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.worlds largestthings.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.

Nelson will be in Los Angeles this week to appear on tonight's "Conan" program.

"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 told him about the cow hair ball in Garden City.

As it turns out, cows groom themselves much like cats do and produce hair balls that are discovered only after the 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 hair ball 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 hair ball made of cat fur that she called "equally disgusting."

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, and works on mural projects. She's also a member of the Kansas Art Commission's Artists on Tour program.

Nelson will arrive in Los Angeles in her "art car," a small truck with Astroturf flames, plastic dinosaurs sinking into "tar pits" 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."

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