Visitors to, and most certainly the residents of, West Yellowstone have frequently seen buffalo roaming the streets of this small Montana town. During the winter and springtime in particular, the buffalo are all over the place. Most residents have become used to seeing them while most visitors are wonderfully surprised and happy to see these huge and majestic animals right up close and right in town.
Though still a very new organization in the summer of 2006, YSCF's directors and supporters had an artistic epiphany. Why not use these majestic animals as the subject for a public art project? Thus was born the Buffalo Roam art project. It involved near life-sized buffalo cow statues made from fiberglass, and one year later life-sized buffalo calf statues, painted by local and regional artists. The artistic theme of the project was to depict Yellowstone National Park, Historic West Yellowstone, or the Native Americans of the region using the bare fiberglass buffalo statue as the artistic canvas.
The late Joe Halko, a Montana artist and sculptor from Chouteau, was contracted to create the buffalo cow model from which a mold was developed by Fiberstock Inc. of Buffalo, Minnesota. A public call out to artists resulted in artists from four neighboring states submitting bids to compete for right to paint one of the 26 buffalo and one year later one of the 10 calves. This project could not have happened without community support. Numerous sponsors donated $3,000 per buffalo to cover project costs which included artist fees. Some sponsors donated $10,000 to the project.
The grand unveiling for the buffalo cows was on June 2nd and 3rd in 2007. The grand unveiling for the calves was one year later in June of 2008. For more than two years, millions of visitors looked at, touched, walked under, walked around, probably climbed on (though they were not supposed to) and otherwise marveled at these incredibly beautiful buffalo sculptures. The project was written up by media across the Western United States. Literally millions of photos were taken of the 26 cows and 10 calves that graced the streets of West Yellowstone since the summer of 2007.
This three-year project culminated on the beautiful summer night of August 29, 2009. With more than 200 people in attendance, every single cow and calf was auctioned off to an enthusiastic crowd of art lovers, community supporters, and those who greatly appreciate the beauty of the Greater Yellowstone Region. Phone bids into the live auction were received from as far away as Georgia, California, and Nevada. It was a magical night and the auction raised $161,500 for WYED and its community projects including funding a local grants program (see Auction Guide).
By 2013, all grant funding had been dispersed.
Though most of the sculptures have been taken elsewhere, there are still over a dozen that remain in West Yellowstone. Take a look and be sure to find each one on your next trip into West Yellowstone.
Buffalo Roam could not have been a success without the hundreds and hundreds of volunteer hours dedicated to the project by dozens and dozens of people.