I hope you are doing well! It sure is a snowy start to the holiday season in Iowa.
Last week we shared a photo of a bison I’m currently painting and I thought I would touch base with you before the craziness of the holidays start to share its progress (in case you missed it on Facebook or Instagram) and to give you the story behind my bison painting (We'll announce his name and bio next week.) He’s not quite finished yet, but will be soon and prints of him will be available starting Black Friday - or Bison Friday as we are calling it this year. The original painting will also be for sale - so please contact us if you are interested.
December 6 and 7 ..... open 10-4
December 8 ..... open 12-4
December 13 and 14 ..... open 10-4
December 15 ..... open 12-4
You're welcome to visit us during our Holiday Open Houses and we would love to see you at 15 Allamakee Street in Waukon, Iowa. We will have homemade cookies, treats, along with hot drinks for you to enjoy as you shop for Steel Cow gifts for others and/or yourself. We also have lots of our ever popular magnets in stock which make fantastic stocking stuffers (they're only available in store). Our ornaments will also be on sale during the holiday open houses (buy 3 get 1 free!)
* We will also be open Bison Friday (Black Friday) November 29 from 10-3
We still have our 2020 calendar cards available in two different sizes 8x10 and 11 x 14 in case you need a quick gift. They are available here on our website at www.steelcow.com
(Here is Ellis drawing while I paint. It didn't last long, but I got some work in...)
Like many of you, I have always loved bison. In addition to being our national mammal, they have such an amazing history and comeback story (in a very short time their numbers went from more than 30 million to less than 1,000 living in North America). There is no way I can dive into how important bison are to our world, but American Bison are beautiful, majestic, gigantic, and romantic animals that are symbols of the American West and so much more.
When I was in college, I was lucky enough to be an intern at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Josh, my husband now, was my boyfriend at the time and he came along with me to do the ever-important job of fly fishing during his days while I worked at the museum during mine. We were both happy, and honestly I don’t know who was happier - I was allowed to spend the days surrounded by amazing art in a wonderful location teaching others while learning myself and he spent his days in the rivers and streams of northwest Wyoming. A good chunk of the museum is dedicated to the bison and if I remember correctly, at least at the time, they had a gallery devoted to just bison paintings and drawings.
We rented a little cabin from a docent of the museum’s in the “town” of Kelly - which is a very small settlement about 15 miles away from the hustle and bustle of Jackson. Kelly is right on the edge of Grand Teton National Park and to get into town you have to drive over cattle grids that keep the bison out of their town, as they are frequently wandering around right there. The above photo is a scene commonly seen right by Kelly. (Rough view - I know!)
The summer of 2002 was one of the best summers I have ever had. When I wasn't working we would take our Jeep and ride around the valley either heading into Grand Teton National Park or Yellowstone for a picnic, hike, or wildlife watching (which would always involve some bison) or we would head into one of our favorite places for a picnic and to draw and paint outside.
So, for me, the bison is also a memory of a perfect summer spent in the mountains of Wyoming “working” (because it certainly didn’t feel like working) amongst amazing animal art and roaming the northwest corner of Wyoming.
This summer we took our kids on a camping trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota in search of some bison photos. This is where we met and photographed the bison in my painting.
If you have never been to the Black Hills – it really is a beautiful place worth visiting. We spent most of our time at Custer State Park, our campsite and touring bison ranches, but there are so many things to do out here – including visiting Mount Rushmore (or Mountain Rushmore as my boys call it) many families come back on a yearly basis and still can’t get enough.
A week before our trip, I reached out to a friend who works for the state of South Dakota and told him we were planning a camping trip to the Black Hills for some bison photos for future paintings. David hooked us up with Chad who is the bison herd manager for Custer State Park and Moritz, who is the ranch manager at 777 Bison Ranch. Chad also has his own herd of bison, which he introduced us to.
These guys are really great guys who gave us and our boys a trip we will remember forever. We are very grateful to them, Custer State Park and Mimi, who owns 777 Bison Ranch, for being so generous with their time and showing us their animals and operations. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU David, Chad, Mimi and Moritz (If you read this.)
Custer State Park is so much fun! All within the park you can camp (or rent cabins if that’s more your style), fish, ride horses, boat, eat some delicious food, hike, go wildlife watching for bison and other animals, shop at their gift stores, and lots more. We had a really great time and will be back again and again.
Here is Eddie with a trout he caught at Legion Lake.
Chad gave Eddie and Harry some bison horns and a bison skull - which are now treasured in our family and Chad is now in the boys' circle of favorite people!
Chad and some other cowboys gave Harry and Eddie short rides on their horses - the boys were on cloud 9!
Bison weren't the only animals we saw - on the wildlife loop in Custer State Park we met some donkeys who are very friendly.
It was so cool to go out to Chad's bison herd and take photos up close and personal! Don't worry - I was safe in the back of this truck (even though it looks like I was close to the animals, I was quite a bit above them.)
Here we are as a family with Moritz - the 777 Bison Ranch manager.
777 Bison Ranch is a beautiful ranch that raises its animals holistically, sustainably and humanely. It has been in the Hillenbrand family for over 40 years and raising bison for over 30. According to their website, they have a strong belief to care for the land, plants and wildlife in the same manner. They use Holistic Management - which is pretty cool and even cooler to see in real life. The ranch is gigantic and has close to 2,000 bison in its 26,000 acres. 777 Bison Ranch's website has a lot of information and some pretty fun videos if you want to check them out. They also have an active facebook page and I’m sure they would love you to follow them here.
You can't get too close to the bison - they are wild and dangerous animals!
But, man, to be out in a herd of bison with nothing else around except nature, is an amazing experience and one we will not forget.
Moritz let Eddie "drive" - now Moritz is also in Eddie's circle of favorite people.
Silly Eddie with a part of some bison's winter coat! Bison shed their coats in the spring each year as they don't need the extra warmth during the summer months.
On the way back to our car Harry fell asleep like this clutching the bison horn that Moritz gave him. He looks like a little 4 year old rock star.
This was right after Moritz told Eddie that Bear Grylls had visited 777 Bison Ranch to film an episode of Man vs. Wild. Needless to say Moritz is now a legend in our house. I should also mention that parts of Dances with Wolves, Wyatt Earp and Planet Earth were also filmed at 777 Bison Ranch. It's that AMAZING!!!
As you can tell, there are a lot of fun memories behind this painting. Here the painting is now - he's close to being finished (and I had to move back to my kitchen to paint as I'm finishing him up at night after the kiddos go to bed.)
Speaking of which - I should come up with a better ending for this post, but now all that's on my mind is finishing this painting.
So, I am signing off!
Thank you for being a Steel Cow friend and stay tuned for the completion of our Bison painting and Bison Friday deals and sales! (I'm not sure what they will be yet, but I'm sure they will be good!)