Tejada has officially been retired for five years now. His sons, Félix Jr., Jesús, and Pedro, and his nephew Juan Antonio Sánchez have taken over as the primary bull makers. But Tejada still goes to the workshop to help them from time to time. "I'm an old bullfighter, you know," he says with a sly smile. As Tejada interacts with his sons and nephew, it's easy to see that he simply can't be away from any family member for very long. That, of course, includes the bulls; those who have a hand in creating them say that they consider the bull one of their brothers. A good one, too, explains José Gómez Ariza, an Osborne family friend who does public-relations work for the company. "He's perfect. We don't have to feed him, but he feeds us," Ariza jokes.
But things weren't always so good for the extended bovine family member. In 1962, a law was passed mandating that billboards be at least 400 feet from the side of the road. At that time, there were hundreds of 23-foot-tall bulls dotting the Spanish landscape, and they all had to come down. Instead of simply moving them, Osborne decided to dispense with the originals and to install much larger (and fewer) bulls in order to ensure that motorists could still see them at the newly regulated distances. Osborne increased the bull's size to 45 feet, the height it is now, and used the opportunity to make one additional change. The bulls were initially painted with the words Veterano Osborne. This time around, though, they decided to paint the words Osborne - Sherry & Brandy on the bulls, hoping to make what was the symbol for one of their products a symbol for all of them.
In 1988, the roadside homes of their adopted brethren were again threatened. Another law regarding roadside signage was passed, and this one prohibited advertising next to public highways altogether. In hopes of skirting the measure, Osborne had the writing on the bulls painted over. Although it brought them reprieve for a short time, it wasn't long before they were fined and instructed to remove the bulls. That's when things got really interesting. It suddenly became clear that the bulls had a much larger extended family than Osborne could have ever imagined. Overwhelming numbers of Spaniards protested the removal of what they had come to think of as "their" bull, arguing that it had become a vital part of the Spanish roadside and, in fact, of Spain itself.
Quickly, the media took hold of the story, and for nearly four years, vigorous public debate ensued. People all across Spain signed petitions and spoke out in support of the bulls' continued existence. Osborne protested the fine and the orders of removal in court. And in December of 1997, much to Osborne's delight and surprise, the Spanish Supreme Court acknowledged that the Osborne bull is indeed integral to the Spanish countryside - so much so that citizens identify themselves with it. In the words of the court, "It has gone beyond its initial advertising purpose and has become part of the landscape. As a result, it is declared a part of Spain's National Heritage."
Today there are 90 bulls and counting. El Toro is recognizable not only to the people of Spain but also to people all over the world. It has become synonymous with the Iberian country, regardless of whether people know of its humble advertising beginnings. Osborne celebrated the bull's 50th anniversary in 2006 and 2007 with Art Bulls for Charity, a campaign to raise funds for Share Our Strength's fight against childhood hunger. Noted personalities with connections to Spain - visual and performing artists, chefs, actors, fashion designers, and the like, including actors Antonio Banderas and Angie Harmon and chefs Jacques Pépin and Ferran Adrià - decorated three-by-three-foot scale models of the Osborne bull for exhibition in New York, Dallas, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, and Washington, D.C. They were then auctioned online in conjunction with the 2007 Food Network South Beach Wine and Food Festival in Miami in late February.
Connecting the Osborne bull and the art world is hardly a stretch. Keith Haring, Javier Mariscal, Juan Gatti, and Luis Mayo, among others, have all paid homage to the bull in their work. In 1964, other prominent artists played an important part in creating the packaging for Osborne’s Conde de Osborne Solera Gran Reserva Brandy: Salvador Dalí was commissioned to design the bottle and label, glass artisans from the Catalan region were responsible for handblowing the prototype for the white glass decanter, and potter Antoni Cumella created the bottle’s indigo ceramic stopper. (The packaging is still in production, available as a limited-edition collector’s item.)
From an unadulterated commercial image to a universally adored national icon — the transformation seems improbable. But when you’re traveling through Spain, it’s hard to imagine a symbol better suited to represent the country and its people. When you’re standing in the Tejada workshop alongside the creators of the bull and hundreds of the familiar figures, it’s impossible to imagine any other people in any other place bringing them to life. It’s as if only from tradition can tradition be born.