Paintings of buffalo are among the earliest in art history. Depictions can be seen in cave paintings tens of thousands of years old. In ancient petroglyphs – outdoor rock art – across what is now America. Indigenous tribes here painted on buffalo hide. The Cheyenne and Kiowah prisoners of war at Fort Marion in the late 19th century featured them prominently in their reminiscences of home. Every Western artist worth her or his salt has pictured a buffalo – more precisely, but interchangeably called a bison – in either two dimensions or three.
As North America’s largest land animal, for its undeniable beauty, its magnificent silhouette, its utility for Indigenous people, its representation of the evils of America’s settler colonial, Manifest Destiney destruction of the West and its natural resources – white people nearly exterminating the species, doing so in part to exterminate Native people, wasting its numbers down from some 30 million to fewer than a thousand – the buffalo is America.
Think of the amazingly focused and simultaneously diverse art collection which could be assembled featuring only the bison. Russell and Remington, obviously, paintings and sculpture. Georgia O’Keeffe. Maynard Dixon.
Plains Indians buffalo robes and buffalo horn bonnets.
Buffalo dancer Kachina dolls.
The fantasy collection soars with contemporary Native American pieces. Legends T.C. Cannon (Caddo, Kiowah), John Nieto (Hispanic and Mescalero Apache) and Allan Houser (Chiricahua Apache). Working artists Jaune Quick-to-See-Smith (French-Cree, Shoshone, and Salish), Star Hardridge (Muscogee Creek). John Potter (Ojibwe).
Wyld Gallery online and in Austin, TX offers a fantastic assortment of contemporary bison depictions from living Native American artists. Billy Hensley’s (Chickasaw) instantly recognizable grids. Brent Learned’s (Arapaho) vibrant colors. Benjamin Blackstar’s (Kiowa) bison emerging from the mist. Tom Farris’ (Cherokee Otoe Missouria) amusing double bison which references Canon. Joyce Nevaquaya Harris’ (Comanche) shapeshifting bison. Matthew Bearden’s (Potawatomi) Rothko Buffalo.
The astonishing volume of Native American art centered on the buffalo hints at its importance to nations across the continent.
Wyld Gallery owner Ray Donley has created something of a bison-centric art collection of his own. The good news is, the artwork there is for sale to get you off and running – or thundering – in starting your own artistic shrine to this spectacular animal.