Residents and town visitors have been gazing and snapping photos on the lawn of the Yellowstone Historic Center this past week, as many of the original Buffalo Roam sculptures have returned to town for the Painted Buffalo Reunion.
The reunion kicked off with a re-unveiling ceremony in front of YHC last Saturday morning. Artists and owners of the painted sculptures came from around the state and Rocky Mountain Region to reunite and reminisce about the original buffalo roam event that was held from 2007-08.
YHC manager Ed Geiger says he came up with the idea of the reunion after museum visitors regularly inquired about where the large works of art are today. He first took his idea to WYED vice president Clyde Seely, who also served as the Buffalo Roam project creator.
“I talked with Clyde about possibly having the buffalo corralled again,” Geiger said during the opening ceremony. “There is still an interest in the region and around the country on how they came to be and that’s why we’re here today.”
Of the 26 original bison, 21 were re-unveiled during the ceremony, along with a handful of bison calves that were painted in 2008. Approximately 13 painted buffalo stay in West Yellowstone year-round, so YHC and WYED divided the list of project artists and owners up and contacted them to gauge interest in a reunion from other parts of the state and country. After receiving positive feedback, WYED president John Greve sent out formal letters to find out which owners would allow showing off their buffalo and have them transported to the corral.
At the ceremony, painted works rested under white sheets, which were pulled off by owners and artists after Geiger, Greve and Seely spoke to the crowd of 80 attendees. Greve attributed the lasting success of the roam to visitors and community members through posting photos on social media of the buffalo since 2007.
“This is one of the most engaging projects West Yellowstone has ever undertaken,” Seely said during the ceremony. “Millions of photos have been taken of the artistic masterpieces and have been (shared) around the world.”
Seely also welcomed Margaret Halko during the ceremony, as she was the wife of the late Joe Halko, who was contracted to create the original buffalo cow model from wax that was later used for the fiberglass mold. The wax mold was on display during the ceremony to view.
Artist Jim Utsler of Choteau, Mont. was one of the six artists that attended the ceremony, and was involved in painting both a buffalo and a calf for the project. He painted the “Spirit of Yellowstone” bison and the “Blossom” calf sculpture.
Utsler says he came down from his Choteau home for the reunion because he had such an enjoyable time participating in the project.
“It’s been great,” he said of the reunion. “I’m so glad they’ve been so successful for the park and West Yellowstone.”
Artist Linda Phillippi of Ronan, Mont. painted “White Buffalo Calf Woman” and was also in attendance at the event, where she enlightened visitors about some of the meanings she expressed in her piece.
“It’s a homecoming; all the brothers and sisters are gathering again,” she said. “It’s a reunion of the artists and statutes themselves.”
Additional festivities with the reunion continued throughout the day on Saturday. Local resident Benny McCracken gave two mountain man presentations as “Old Blind Bill Bennett,” where he told tall tales and explained how mountain man myths started and dispelled incorrect perceptions of the lifestyle.
Historic walking tours throughout the historic downtown district were also given, along with activities for children, which included a buffalo chip throw, a coloring contest and a pin the tail on the buffalo contest.
According to Greve, the event went well considering it was held on a Saturday morning.
“It was an absolute success,” he said. “We’re thrilled to have visitors and residents come out and we’re proud to present the buffalo back to town.”
The painted buffalo will remain on display in the corral on the lawn of the YHC, located at 104 Yellowstone Ave. until Sept. 2.