Big Blue put out to Pasture for Spirit of the Buffalo project
First published in OKC August 25, 2004
by
Carolyn B. Leonard



Photo by Carolyn Leonard

SPIRIT OF THE BUFFALO: Artist Janie Brainard turns loose of her Big Blue Buffalo to let it graze on the grassy lawn in front of Norman Regional Hospital’s new Healthplex on Tecumseh Street in Norman.


Janie Brainard, an art major graduate of the University of Santa Fe, estimated four weeks to complete her monumental project for the Nature Conservancy. It actually took much longer to transform the plain gray fiberglass object into a work of sparkling mosaic art.

“It took lots of time to smooth all those sharp edges,” Brainard said.

Brainard, booth owner at The Market in Quail Springs, is the daughter of Roy and Georgia Cooper of Briarcreek community in far northwest Oklahoma City. For more than two months, Big Blue was staked out in the Cooper’s three-car garage while Brainard groomed him for showtime. Each evening and every weekend she raised the garage door to give the animal some fresh air, and she got to work. Neighbors out for an evening stroll often stopped by to observe progress and visit with the Cooper family.

“That was fun, having people stop by,” said Brainard. “I miss that. I think they all became attached to Big Blue.”

For her swirl design, Brainard selected broken blue and white Delft chinaware edged with mirror and stained glass chunks, all carefully ground on the edges, fitted together like the pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle, and grouted into place. The logo of the sponsor is tattooed on Big Blue’s forehead in dark blue stained glass.

“Mom and I scoured garage sales and flea markets to find the special china pieces,” Brainard said. The pattern includes an Oklahoma Route 66 mug, a Delftware vase, cups, saucers and a pitcher. Flattened navy marbles edge Big Blue’s eyes and outline his muscles. A final coat of shellac protects the finished product.

The buffalo, 5 feet tall, 8 feet long and 3 feet wide, is hollow and weighed 120 pounds in the buff. Like cows put out to graze and fatten, this one weighs much more now. The huge animal stands on a sturdy metal platform. A team of men packed Big Blue with protective quilts and padding and used 2x4s under the platform to lift him out of the garage. They loaded him on a trailer and headed off to market.

Big Blue is one of about 75 such animals grazing around the state as part of a Nature Conservancy of Oklahoma project called Spirit of the Buffalo. The Nature Conservancy is a private, international, non-profit organization established in 1951 to preserve plants, animals and their habitat by protecting the lands and waters required for their survival. For more information on the Nature Conservancy and the Spirit of the Buffalo, go to www.spiritofthebuffalo.org. At the website, you will find lists of the artists and their projects, as well as information about where each animal is tethered.

This artist, who previously created small mosaic pieces and stained glass crosses for her antiques and collectibles shop, says she plans to do more oil painting in the future.

“I will be setting up a booth to do portraits from photos,” Brainard said. “That is my specialty. It should take off fast, and I can do it anywhere.”

Would she consider decorating another fiberglass buffalo?

“Well, I would prefer a smaller project,” she laughed. “like, maybe a mosaic mouse.”