June 2, 2004
Copyright, Oklahoma Gazette
Bison are migrating back to Oklahoma, only they aren't shaggy-maned
mammals. They're art.
When Steve Horning, plant manager at Quad/Graphics, first
saw the proposal for the first "glass" buffalo,
he knew he'd found the perfect match.
"That one just stuck out as the best signature of who
we are," he said.
Quad/Graphics, a plant that prints the regional edition of
Newsweek Magazine, in addition to hundreds of brochures, catalogues
and other printed materials, opened in Oklahoma City last
fall. The company, based in Wisconsin, has an extensive corporate
art collection, so purchasing a buffalo to benefit The Nature
Conservancy was a no-brainer.
The Spirit of the Buffalo is a public art project sponsored
by the Oklahoma chapter of The Nature Conservancy. Oklahoma
artists were invited to submit ideas as to how they would
turn a fiberglass buffalo into a work of art. Then companies
combed the files to find their match. The buffalos measure
5-feet-tall, 8-feet-long and 3-feet-wide.
Companies paid $3,500 for a buffalo $1,000 of which
goes to the artist. Corporations, foundations, civic groups,
companies and individuals have purchased buffalos.
The money raised will go toward preserving Oklahoma's landscapes
and streams. While many of the buffalos are located downtown,
in Bricktown and around Oklahoma City, they are spreading
across the state. Ardmore has several.
Gifted Oklahoma artist Sunni Mercer, of Bethany, created the
buffalo that Quad/Graphics selected. Mercer is a painter and
mixed-media artist who has shown her work across the country.
Her assemblages are significant because of her attention to
minute detail and her use of found objects.
While many of the buffalos are adorned simply with paint,
Harry nicknamed for the founder of Quad/Graphics
is covered with tiny bits of glass. Artist Mercer and four
assistants needed 1,000 hours of labor to affix the shards
to Harry's body. He wears a top hat and a large bow and carries
a cane. The buffalo weighs 450 pounds without his base plate.
Mercer attached the shattered remains from more than six plate
glass windows on the buffalo with 30 tubes of adhesive, 3,000
cotton swabs to clean off the adhesive and 600 rubber gloves.
Her buffalo shines in the evening light like a diamond
or like a disco ball, depending upon your outlook. He stands
in front of a bright red wall behind a glass window at Eighth
and Broadway in a building owned by Chris Salyer.
Mercer said she is pleased with how her buffalo turned out
and how it is displayed. "When you drive by the window,
the small pieces of glass shimmering across his body catch
the light," she said. "He shines like a faceted
diamond. The movement past him creates a 'disco ball' effect.
His glass also throws a sparkling pattern across the red wall
like crystals reflecting the sun."
Sure, it's been done before. Pigs in Chicago. Horses in Amarillo.
But at least the buffalo is indigenous to Oklahoma. The Nature
Conservancy uses buffalos at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve
to restore the landscape. And the buffalo project raises awareness
of art and thrusts it into the public arena.
Once someone purchases a buffalo, the artist has six weeks
to put the buffalo together. The sponsor can personalize the
buffalo with a company name or logo. Harry sports Quad/Graphics's
logo on his rump.
"Quad/Graphics has gone to great lengths to give him
a perfect environment," Mercer said. "They had to
cut through and repair the wall to get him into the window
without damaging him. They even cut circulation vents into
the wall to keep the heat from becoming too severe. He currently
has black velvet around his base plate, but soon the entire
floor will be draped with black."
Soon Harry will be accompanied by two more glass buffalos
by glass artist Dale Chihuly. The Chihuly buffalos have blown
glass horns and bits of glass covering their bodiess.
Other remarkable buffalos include Rick Bewley's Buffalo Nickel,
which is a much-larger-than-life three-dimensional version
of the buffalo nickel, sponsored by Bank One. Susan Morrison
created an eye-catching Picasso Buffalo, inspired by the artist
and sponsored by Chesapeake Energy. Vincent VanBuffagogh by
Brantley Cowan holds a paintbrush in its mouth and part of
its left horn has been lopped off.
Blue Suede Hooves by Julie Wells, and sponsored by Riggs,
Abney, Neal, Turpen, Orbinson & Lewis Law Firm, is a clever
take on the King during his Vegas stage compete with
chains and white jumpsuit. And Irving Middle School's art
class did a remarkable job of creating Pollock's Patterns
of the Buffalo Herd, sponsored by Chesapeake Energy Corporation.
Jackson Pollock would be quite impressed.
The buffalos will be on display through September. To find
out more about the Spirit of the Buffalo, and to discover
where the buffaloes are located, check out www.spiritofthebuffalo.org.