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
“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
Would she consider decorating another fiberglass buffalo?
“Well, I would prefer a smaller project,” she laughed. “like, maybe a