Artists leave their mark on bison statues

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Dixie State University’s Trailblazer Art in the City Project has given artists the chance to leave a lasting impression on St. George’s community.

When it was first introduced back in 2016, Jodi McGregor, the Z-Arts visual arts chair, was one of the first artists contacted to get involved with the project. Because she is connected to various art groups in southern Utah, McGregor said she sent mass emails and posted on social media to attract potential artists. 

“I also agreed to [paint a bison] myself,” McGregor said. “I felt like I couldn’t pass it off to other artists without at least doing one of them.”

McGregor said her sister inspired her to depict some well-known sporting events like bicycling and running marathons in St. George for the bison statue. McGregor’s sister, Tia Astle, is one of the featured athletes shown on the left side of the bison because she has been involved in a series of running marathons. McGregor also said whenever she hears people talk about southern Utah, sporting events like Ironman Triathalon and the Huntsman World Senior Games are prominent attractions St. George is recognized for. 

Wittwer Hospitality sponsors the bison McGregor created, which is located at 125 St. George Blvd. 

Nature Bison

DSU alumna Ashley Graf also represented features St. George has to offer with its community and tourists. Graf said she wanted to show St. George’s landscape transitioning from daytime to nighttime.

“To me, those national parks and the red sand is a lot of comfort to me, and I know a lot of college students probably feel that way,” Graf said.

After DSU reviewed and accepted Graf’s submission, she finished her bison statue within a week. Although she had a quick deadline, Graf said she managed to balance training at her new job and spending hours each night painting the bison. 

“I committed to this during my first week of what I call my first ‘adult job,’ so I had a lot on my plate,” Graf said. “My family would come out with their chairs to sit and watch and keep me company,” Graf said. 

With family cheering her on and one of her friend’s assistance, the bison was ready to be revealed for DSU’s homecoming in 2016. 

The community can check out Graf’s bison statue at 97 St. George Blvd.

Star Sign Bison

While DSU owns most of the bison, companies are given the opportunity to sponsor a statue each year  for $1,500; however, if businesses want to purchase a bison, they’re given the opportunity to work one-on-one with the artist to design a custom art piece for $10,000.

 Rather than purchase a yearly sponsor, Star Sign, which is known for designing business logos, purchased a bison and worked with artist Lee Wiley to develop the art design. Brainstorming the concept and then completing the actual piece took about two months, Wiley said.

“[Star Sign] really liked my [artistic] style because I am an illustrator; specifically I do comic books and animations,” Wiley said. “I love storytelling with art, so to me, comic books are one of the coolest ways to do that.”

Because of his use of heavy line work and bright colors, Wiley said his style stood out to Tim Taysom, who is Star Sign’s owner. Taysom wanted a buffalo design that would really stand out and get people’s attention, Wiley said. Taking inspiration from Las Vegas’ Neon Museum, which displays signs from old casinos and other businesses, Wiley said Taysom wanted to incorporate vintage signage with popular businesses around St. George.

“From there, I looked at signage in St. George and things that stood out to me,” Wiley said. “There were elements like the Swig logo, the green dinosaur from Sinclair and KFC. You know I didn’t want to do a lot of big commercial stuff, but KFC stuck out to me because the first official KFC was opened in Salt Lake City, so I thought that was kind of neat.”

Wiley said he also included parts of vintage cars to go along with the vintage signage present on the bison. 

“On each side of the bison there are car elements because I think old vintage cars go well with old vintage signs,” Wiley said. “On one side there is a rear iconic fin of a Cadillac, and on the other side there is a grill piece to an old 1960s Mustang.”

Aside from painting various businesses on the bison, Wiley said he also integrated the D on the hill and the St. George Temple, which are unique landmarks in this city. 

Wiley said he also wanted to incorporate star elements as a nod to Star Sign. Across the bison’s body are various four-point and six-point stars accompanied by the Star Wars and Star Trek logos. 

Wiley’s bison can be seen at 1028 E. Tabernacle St., which is right across from Swig.

 Jones Paint and Glass Bison

When Jones Paint and Glass also purchased a bison earlier this year, Kyle Lyman, a junior music major from St. George, said one of the managers reached out to see if he would be interested in painting the statue. Lyman currently works as a painter for the company, which specializes in all kinds of paint and glass projects in town. 

 “They thought of me first rather than having an artist appointed to them because they knew that I already do art so it was a good fit,” Lyman said. 

At first Lyman said the company wasn’t sure whether or not he would receive complete creative control over the bison’s design. If this were the case, Lyman said these guidelines would have been a deal breaker.

“If someone else designed it, it wouldn’t have been much fun for me,” Lyman said. “I would much rather put my own personality into it.”

After Lyman submitted a sample of his idea, Lyman said he convinced the marketing director to go with his vision.

“I wanted to do something really colorful with contrasting colors like red and green so roses came to mind pretty quickly,” Lyman said. “I have had a thing for flowers lately; I don’t know it may just be a passing thing, but it’s something I have enjoyed recently.”

 Because this was going to be a huge space to cover, Lyman said he was going for somewhat of a patterned look across the bison’s body that was readable from a distance. 

“Knowing that people were passing it on the street, I wanted it to have a bold look so people know what it is,” Lyman said. 

He really wanted his finished work to stand out as an art piece and not as an advertising tool, which he believed significantly changed the outcome of his project. Although he believes the bison statues provide an outlet for artists to display their art to the pubic, Lyman said he wishes there was more street art that is soulful and pure. 

“You drive around town and most of the signage you’re seeing is all for businesses,” Lyman said. “I think [DSU’s Trailblazer Art in the City Project] is a really great start, but I would also like to see artists being promoted more rather than just the school or the business.”

Lyman’s bison is located on 122 S. 1200 E., which is right in front of Jones Paint and Glass.

Because all 10 of the original bison have been painted and placed around St. George, Jordon Sharp, the chief marketing and communication officer, said DSU has purchased 10 additional statues currently seeking new homes.

Sharp said all of the proceeds for DSU’s Trailblazer Art in the City Project have gone toward branding the city with DSU paraphernalia and purchasing the additional statues.

“The project has been a huge success and has not only added an artistic element to our city, but has branded our new identity to millions of people,” Sharp said.  “We receive phone calls from community members asking about the project telling us which are their favorites and if we will be doing any more.”

To find out more information about the project, visit https://umac.dixie.edu/art-in-the-city/.