Warming Up to Bison Art and Branding

A sign of an entrenched native prairie animal icon, is  a hulking, ugly bison stamped into Alberta handmade soap.  Not that I’ve seen a salmon icon on Pacific coast local soap  –yet.  Pacific coastal soapmakers might find dolphins and whales more romantic iconography for beauty soap products.

Office building entrances of Bow Building transformed artfully with tipis and bison imagery during Calgary Stampede 2015. Photo by J.Chong
Office building entrances of Bow Building transformed artfully with tipis and bison imagery during Calgary Stampede 2015. Photo by J.Chong.
Local history art depicts bison as part of Plains Indian culture. Medicine Hat, Alberta 2017. Over 280 km. east of Calgary. Photo by J. Chong.

Not Exactly Cuddly
While the bison isn’t cuddly nor evokes  an awestruck “wow” like the soaring bald eagle,  the bison’s klutzy but vaguely threatening, massive brown bulk just makes you pause a tad.  It’s a creature you tend to learn tidbits of its cultural influence on the Plain Indians for several thousand years and now, on local art and local branding.

Bison brand has nothing to do with the tea –except it was packaged in Alberta, home of wild bison. Photo by J.Chong 2017.

If the  bison wasn’t around, eventually, this prairie animal icon would be missed.  For most locals and tourists, it’s finding bison redemption in its clumsy furriness.

Art decorates around planters at Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. Calgary AB 2015. Photo by J. Chong
Art decorates around planters at Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. Calgary AB 2015. Photo by J. Chong
Stylized bison art banner hung off a street road bridge. Art part of Canada’s 150th birthday. Calgary AB 2017. Photo by J.Chong

I’ve already blogged earlier about bison as local prairies’ signature food where it is in farmed in abundance with highest quality because of its foraging on dry, grassy rangeland.

Masala East Indian restaurant in mountain town of Banff, offers bison in its dishes. Our delicious choices: Bison Rogansjosh and Bison Saang. Banff, Alberta 2016.
Masala East Indian restaurant in mountain town of Banff, did offer bison in its dishes. Our delicious choices: Bison Rogansjosh and Bison Saang. Banff, Alberta 2016. (They no longer offer bison.)
Local art in a café. Banff, Alberta 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Bison ice sculpture. Lake Louise, Alberta 2017. Photo by J.Chong
Bison ice sculpture. Lake Louise, Alberta 2017. Photo by J.Chong

But unlike horses, a domesticated animal, loved by many in the Canadian prairies, bison is always wild and dangerous, even if farmed.  It can even run up to 45-55 km. per hr. Bison have poor eyesight like cattle (fact from Jack, the ex-farmer), but have a good sense of smell.

Alberta handmade soap with bison company logo. Gunpowder probably a natural exfoliating powder.
Alberta handmade soap with bison company logo. Gunpowder probably a natural exfoliating powder.

Bison or buffalo (not be confused with water buffalo), always tends to be in art, as solo against Man or just standing around in a herd or solo munching on grass. Man is always far away or there’s a fence or natural barrier between Man and bison. You never see any art depictions of anyone petting or riding a bison.

No one, not even the Plains Indians, were dumb enough to do such dangerous thing.

It takes time to warm up to bison art.   Bison pulchritude is a hard thing to define. Most artists depict the headshot, a hulking side view or occasionally

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slightly romanticized drawings of Indians chasing a few frightened bison galloping away.  Only recently I was shown a herd of buffalo sculptures not far from home.  It wasn’t noticeable to me since I was always whizzing along, on the look-out for cars whizzing by me.

Herd of cyclists by herd of bison sculptures. Albert Courthouse, downtown Calgary, AB 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Herd of cyclists by herd of bison sculptures. Albert Courthouse, downtown Calgary, AB 2016. Photo by J.Chong

All these images are good for the solid bison that lumbers mysteriously across our land.  I’m not even sure what type of noises bison make. Maybe one day I’ll hear it from these glowering but solid creatures..

More Interesting Reading
Chong, J.  Roaming Around for Bison: Distinctly North American Lean and Maybe Gourmet. In Cycle Write. Dec. 17, 2010.

Bison art graces utility box near Rideau bike-pedestrian bridge by Elbow River. Calgary, AB 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Bison art graces utility box near Rideau bike-pedestrian bridge by Elbow River. Artwork by Solomon Bandi. Calgary, AB 2016. Photo by J.Chong.
Aboriginal with bison snow sculpture. Banff, Alberta 2017. Photo by J.Chong
Aboriginal with bison snow sculpture. Banff, Alberta 2017. Photo by J.Chong
Buffy (as named by some locals), the bison statute by Fort Calgary 2015. Photo by J.Chong
Buffy (as named by some locals), the bison statute by Fort Calgary 2015. Photo by J.Chong
Child’s art featuring buffalo hunt near home. Part of special local children’s art exhibit. Portion devoted to art by native Indian children. Lethbridge, Alberta 2017. Photo by J.Chong
Painting of bison hunt on an elk antler. Whyte Museum. Canmore, Alberta 2017. Photo by J.Chong
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14 Comments Add yours

  1. Pit says:

    They are truly magnificent animals, aren’t they?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      In their own way, they certainly are.

      Like

  2. It’s interesting Jean, I’ve always thought they were rather beautiful. ❤
    Diana xo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      It took time to collect examples of art….about this creature revered by the Plains Indians.

      Like

  3. TinLizzie72 says:

    I’ve always loved bison! I wrote a report in elementary school about them, had a stuffed bison, and there was a small herd in the CA foothills that I loved passing. I can’t explain why I find them so fascinating, just that I do. I”d love to see all the bison art in person some day. : )

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Until I lived in the prairies, I never really paid attention to bison. There are small farmed herds in southern Ontario (where I was for first 40 yrs.) and Quebec. Alberta has a lot of grassy ranchland –their natural habitat of huge distances with tons of grass and space to wander. They also adjust well to our harder winters. Hope the featured art gives highlights some cultural and artistic influences of bison. In Alberta, the largest wild herd is in Elk Island National Park..not far from Edmonton. The Canadian govn’t did dontate several hundred to Glacier National Park in Montana to restart a wild herd. There is also a UNESCO Heritage natural site in central Alberta, Smashed-Head-Buffalo-Jump where the Indians did as a matter of hunting, run a herd of them over the cliffs..to have them for food, shelter and clothing. It’s an archaeological sight worth visiting.

      Like

  4. Peter Klopp says:

    Great way to connect the story of this mighty prairie animal with the art! I really liked your photos.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      If you look at the dates of the photos, I took a long time collecting photos. Blog text was ready nearly 1.5 yrs. ago but wanted more different photos for interest. 🙂

      Like

  5. Mabel Kwong says:

    Never knew Bison had a place in Canadian art. Fascinating that it’s something to be admired, preserved and also consumed. If they tend to be wild, then maybe it’s best to keep your distance but maybe some are tamer than others. Never seen them here in Australia, and maybe they are the kind of animal that prefer colder climate.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Yes, they really prefer cold climate. But can take a few summers of dry heat up to 30 degrees C.

      I’m sure one day you might if you haven’t already, choose the iconic kangaroo or kola bear or whatever Aussie creature. And Aussieland has enough of unusual creatures that must have inspired art over the centuries.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Sue Slaght says:

    Jean what a great collection of bison art! We enjoyed our time at Elk Island National Park and learning more about bison. Shortly after some of those bison were transported to Banff National Park. Amazing animals and I am so pleased to learn more about them here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Hi Sue: We went to Elk Island Park 2 yrs. ago for 2 hrs. during the day. Unfortunately didn’t see bison until we just drove out of the park and in flash, saw some bison drinking from the pond. We have seen them at Waterton National Park.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow, I didn’t realize bison was such an art figure. The one on the wall is beautiful. I’ll be sharing this post with T, as he’s on early American (antiIndian) history right now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      I’m sure you’ll inform your son on history perspectives.

      Like

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