June 9, 2004
Copyright, Oklahoma Gazette
The latest addition to the Nature Conservancy's fund-raising
campaign and art exhibit is based upon the legend of the White
Buffalo Calf Woman.
A cold wind brushed through the short grass of the intersection
of Northwest 36th and Shartel June 2. But it didn't faze the
strong-shouldered white buffalo now sitting squarely on the
Oklahoma Gazette's grounds.
The Gazette recently purchased the buffalo, the latest
addition to the Nature Conservancy's fundraising campaign
and art exhibit, Spirit of the Buffalo. An unveiling ceremony
took place June 2.
Named "Spirit" and based upon the legend of the
White Buffalo Calf Woman, it will remain on site through September.
"Spirit" was created by Guthrie artist Harvey Pratt,
a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes. The White Buffalo
Calf Woman is an important figure in American-Indian culture,
"Supposedly she brought the sacred pipe to some of the
tribes through the white buffalo she changed back and
forth (between woman and buffalo)," Pratt said. "...
Most tribes used the pipe in ceremonies and to consecrate
certain things; in discussions and in ceremonies they will
smoke the pipe. The pipe is significant to the fact that it's
used to promote honesty and in honor of nature and ancestors
and the sacredness of whatever you're doing." According
to legend, a woman approached an American-Indian warrior and
told him that she would return to his camp with a great gift.
She came back bringing a pipe adorned with 12 eagle feathers,
a spiritual offering to aid those who used it. Pratt said
the pipe's smoke "joins us to God." As the healer
left, she changed into a white buffalo calf, the legend says.
John Parrish, executive director of the Jacobson House Native
Art Center in Norman, said the legend is derived from the
Plains Indians. Parrish, who attended the unveiling, said
Pratt's heritage is in the Plains Indians, and so he has a
deep understanding of the legend and its significance.
"He's an accomplished artist, he has tremendous skill
and he's also a very technical artist," Parrish said.
Pratt's artistic creation is rife with intricate details and
symbolism, not the least of which is the White Buffalo Calf
Woman holding the sacred pipe. The pipe on the white buffalo
is painted as if it were lit, with swirls of smoke trailing
to all of the wildlife painted on the buffalo hummingbirds,
butterflies and dragonflies. The left side of the buffalo
depicts female animals and insects, the right side male. A
caterpillar represents rebirth, Pratt said. "I love the
fact that he put in some of the meaningful little touches,
like the dragonfly and the hummingbird and the butterfly,
all which carry their own significance," Parrish said.
Smoke also fingers through the spine of the buffalo itself,
until it winds its way to the animal's nostrils.
"The sacred smoke touches all things when you smoke it
in a sacred manner," Pratt explained.
Pratt also used gradations of black acrylic paint from the
hooves to the legs to show that "this white buffalo has
run through the sacred fires. He's been there, he's been tempered,
he's been steeled. He's run through those fires, and he is
a special, holy person." Other fine details include small
buffalo skulls brushed in the shadows of the fiberglass mammal's
pupils, which Pratt said were intended to signify that buffalos
are spiritually powerful whether dead or alive.
He also painted tears slowly dropping from the fiberglass
buffalo's eyes. "All things cry for things that they
have dominion over," he said of the tears, "and
I think that the sacredness of this buffalo at times is going
to cry for its people and for the things that it has tried
"I think it is important that tears can be tears of joy,
too," Parrish added.
The Spirit of the Buffalo campaign is loosely based on a 1998
public art display of fiberglass cows in Zurich, Switzerland.
A year later, Chicago adopted the art idea, calling it Cows
on Parade, with the bovines being auctioned off to charity.
The Gazette's buffalo is one of 100 that will be on
display through September, said Keven Virgilio, associate
director of philanthropy for the Oklahoma chapter of the Nature
Conservancy. So far, 96 buffalos have been "adopted."
Virgilio said the Nature Conservancy hopes to net about $100,000
from the fund-raiser. Each buffalo costs about $3,500. Out
of that sum, each artist gets paid $1,000 honorarium for his
or her work. The organization also must deduct $1,500 for
the cost of the fiberglass buffalo, which includes the fee
for transporting the life-sized fiberglass figure from the
manufacturer, Fiber Stock of Buffalo, Minn. Nature Conservancy
nets about $1,000 for each buffalo. Proceeds will help fund
the Nature Conservancy's mission to protect the state's natural
landscape, Virgilio said. The Nature Conservancy has 13 land
preserves in the state, three of which are suited for public
visitation, Virgilio said.
The Nature Conservancy met with representatives of local art
organizations and galleries in November 2003, soliciting from
them names of artists, and then made a call for artists to
help with the project. About 260 artists submitted proposals
for the buffalos, the majority of whom are from central Oklahoma,
although the buffalos themselves are showing up all over the
state, including Checotah, Clinton, Cheyenne, Enid, Lawton,
Ardmore and Woodward. "Spirit," though, was one
of only three buffalos to be displayed at this year's Red
"The whole concept was to give humanity hope and give
them a gift and an aid to help them through hard times,"
Pratt said of "Spirit." "... I look at it as
almost a symbol of hope, that if you do certain things, things
are going to be better for you."