MENLO PARK, Calif. – Wall Street values Hewlett-Packard Co. at $98 billion. Its rival, Sun Microsystems Inc., values Hewlett and Packard at a mere $6,000.
That’s how much Sun paid last week for a life-size painted cutout of HP co-founders Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, one of five portraits of tech titans traveling thousands of miles in a zany, cross-country art project called “Pioneers Hitchhiking in the Valley of Heart’s Delight.”
The Hewlett and Packard painting – which depicts the Silicon Valley icons sitting atop the garage where they founded their company almost seven decades ago – spent the past week in cubicles and conference rooms on Sun’s grassy campus.
Sun chief executive Jonathan Schwartz and rank-and-file engineers draped the wooden rendering in Sun T-shirts and posed with it for photographs as colleagues chuckled.
Schwartz said the stunt was an example of “good, cheap, drive-the-other-guys-up-a-wall fun.”
“Bill and Dave have both indicated a strong interest in learning more about Sun … so stay tuned,” Schwartz wrote in his Web journal. “We’re putting together a global tour.”
The five cutouts, created by four San Francisco area artists as part of an electronic art expo in San Jose, were set loose with instructions inscribed on their backs about where in the Silicon Valley they are supposed to end up. Passers-by found the paintings at highway ramps, rest stops, rural routes and elsewhere, with the request to drive them as far west as they’re able.
During the journeys, each piece was tracked by Global Positioning System units and charted on a Web site. The artists requested digital photos and asked drivers to carve their e-mail addresses onto the cutouts. All participants share in the eventual sale price.
The artists asked HP to purchase the Hewlett and Packard for the lobby of its headquarters, but the company refused, so Sun grabbed the opportunity. Sun Senior Vice President Larry Singer said Sun would donate the piece to the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose.
HP Vice President Eric Kintz acknowledged on his blog that the Sun acquisition was a “nice stunt” – and not necessarily tasteful.
“I never met Bill or Dave, but I bet neither of them would have approved paying thousands for representations of themselves,” Kintz wrote.
Although the artists want each figure to end up in a local museum, official destinations vary.
William Shockley, co-inventor of the solid-state transistor, traveled around California before winding up at a Mountain View fruit stand that used to be Shockley Labs. No museum has expressed interest in Shockley, whose theories on ethnicity and intelligence besmirched his reputation.
The portrait’s now in one of the artists’ garages; it may be auctioned on eBay.
The journey of Intel Corp. co-founder Robert Noyce – who invented the integrated silicon chip – began in Michigan and continued to Iowa, where Noyce grew up. Shortly after an organic pig farmer posed with him in the mud, the GPS batteries died, and Noyce went incommunicado for several days.
On Wednesday, San Carlos, Calif.-based painter Julie Newdoll got an e-mail from a woman in West Des Moines, Iowa, who left Noyce on Interstate 80. Later in the day, a woman in Stuart, Iowa, picked him up and promised to put in new batteries and send him on his way.
He is expected to end up at the Intel Museum in Santa Clara.
Heading west in a mobile home with a driver named Harry is the painting of Frederick Terman, the first Stanford University official to lease nearby farmland to entrepreneurs. His real estate venture transformed an agricultural zone known as the Valley of Heart’s Delight into the global epicenter of the tech industry. The painting of Terman began its journey in Chicago.
“It’s like having your five children on the road. I keep worrying, are they lost? Whose house are they in?” asked Newdoll, mother of two.
“I’ll never let my own kids hitchhike after this – and if they do, they better have a working GPS unit on them.”