DOINews: New Bison in the Interior Library

Last edited 09/05/2019

George Franchois, Maureen Booth and Kathy Elk Woman Whitman standing beside Whitman's white-buffalo sculpture in the DOI Library.
Celebrating installation of the white buffalo sculpture now in the Department of the Interior Library are (from left) George Franchois, director of the Interior Library; Maureen Booth, law librarian, who has generously loaned the sculpture to the library; and the sculptor, Kathy Elk Woman Whitman. The ceremony took place as part of the 75th Anniversary of the Indian Craft Shop at Interior on Sept. 20, 2013. Photo by Susan Schram.
Susan Pourian fastening a pin onto the lapel of Robert Stanton's suit in the Indian Craft Shop.
Shop director Susan Pourian outfits Robert Stanton, senior advisor to the Secretary of the Interior, with a pin commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Indian Craft Shop. Located in the main Interior building, the shop features original art murals painted in 1938 by Chiricahua Apache artist Allan House and Navajo artist Gerald Nailor. Photo by Tami Heilemann, DOI.
Secretary Sally Jewell and others standing behind a lectern in the sculpture garden outside of the Indian Craft Shop.
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and other officials (plus the bison) welcome employees and artists to the sculpture garden outside the Indian Craft Shop to celebrate the shop's 75th anniversary. Behind her (from left)are Jeff Marquis and Gerry Gabrys, executives of Guest Services Inc., which operates the shop, and shop director Susan Pourian. After the ceremony, the bison was installed in the Interior Library. Photo by Tami Heilemann, DOI.

Over the past month employees and other visitors to the library in the main Interior building in Washington, D.C., have been intrigued by an evocative buffalo sculpture just inside the library entrance. Unlike the bison on the Interior seal, this buffalo is white and unlike most sculptures, it was created from scraps of shiny metal. The story behind the buffalo, its artist, and its owner is also special.

The buffalo's first residence in the Interior building was in The Indian Craft Shop just down the hall from the library. The sculpture captured the attention of many visitors to the shop — and it meant the world to one employee in particular, Interior law librarian Maureen Booth.

"The story of this sculpture, and the way it spoke to Maureen was so powerful that it became a centerpiece for our 75th Anniversary Celebration this fall," says Susan Pourian, director of the shop, which was established in 1938 as an outlet for the work of American Indian artists.

The bison is the creation of award-winning American Indian artist Kathy Elk Woman Whitman (Mandan, Hidatsa & Arikara) and is titled "Return of Spiritual Ways." Whitman notes there is a good reason why she made the sculpture from recycled Diet Pepsi soda cans.

"Our Native American culture holds the white buffalo in high regard. They are sacred to us. They are rare," Whitman says. "When they appear, they bring us courage. In my tribe, the Mandan, the white buffalo was used in many sacred ceremonies."

Whitman emphasizes that in times past, a buffalo was killed for sustenance only and her people used every part of the animal: "Before it was taken, a prayer was said out of respect and reverence and to show our appreciation. There was no waste. Everything had a purpose. Because the buffalo sustained us as a people in the past, they were and still are held in high regard. They still sustain us spiritually. This is why I created the buffalo from recycled aluminum cans, to remind us all of how sacred life is and to be conscious of how we live, to take care of this sacred Mother Earth."

While on display in the craft shop, the sculpture had assumed special spiritual significance to Booth. She had taken extended leave in 2012 to care for her husband, Walter, who subsequently passed away from pancreatic cancer. Upon her return to work, she was drawn to the buffalo sculpture in the craft shop. "I began visiting the shop to see the sculpture because it lifted my spirits," Booth says. "I was fascinated by the ruff on his neck, the eyes and the stance — a stance of moving ahead but not running. I saw life in the buffalo."

The fact that Booth and her husband had collected American Indian art together was one of many reasons that she decided to purchase this sculpture. "The craft shop staff would periodically move the buffalo and when I couldn't immediately see it, I would panic that it had been sold," she says. "I realized how important the buffalo was to me and that I had to make sure it never left Interior. It just so belongs here." Booth purchased the sculpture and arranged to put it in the library under an Art on Loan agreement.

On Sept. 20, Booth, Pourian, and Whitman joined Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, employees, other American Indian artists, and Guest Services executives for a celebration in the sculpture garden marking the shop's 75th anniversary.

Jewell expressed her gratitude that Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes had established the Indian Craft Shop and recognized the importance of its mission. "The reason we exist is to bring visibility to the work you do," she told the artists, noting that the craft shop is here to bring to the public "the incredible talents and stories from contemporary art and historic [traditional] art being done today."

The shop is obviously much more than a shop. For more information, see http://www.indiancraftshop.

Submitted by Joan Moody, Office of Communications, Office of the Secretary

Oct. 30, 2013

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