Life-size painted buffalo to roam off MU campus

F. BRIAN FERGUSON | Sunday Gazette-Mail photos
Marshall University graphic design student Brianna Jarvis stands by a life-size fiberglass bison. She will be painting the bison as the winner of the New Connections public art contest sponsored by Pullman Square.
Jarvis will paint her winning design on the fiberglass bison. The completed artwork will be unveiled at Huntington’s Pullman Square during the Visual Arts Center’s Sept. 19 open house.

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Not all of us would consider a bison to be a thing of beauty.

But a visit to Marshall University — home of the Thundering Herd, where a life-size fiberglass bison is corralled at the school’s art warehouse — could soon change all that.

Right now it’s just a shiny, white statue. But it will spend the next six weeks being transformed into a work of art by student artist Brianna Jarvis before it goes on public display.

“This young lady is amazing. The detail is absolutely incredible. People had better buckle up if this is any indication of what we can expect from the Visual Arts Center,” said Huntington Mayor Steve Williams.

Jarvis’ completed project will be unveiled Sept. 19 at Pullman Square — directly across the street from MU’s soon-to-open School of Art and Design, which houses the new Visual Arts Center — during the center’s community open house.

Jarvis, a rising sophomore and graphic design major, won a public art competition called New Connections, a contest she almost didn’t enter during the last school year.

“I thought, ‘Oh, I’m just a freshman.’ But I woke up one morning and had it all plotted out in my mind. I wanted to represent everything in the School of Art and Design. It’s connecting ourselves to each other and the community. All of our majors are represented here with the Visual Arts Center, and so is our bison,” Jarvis said.

The finished artwork will feature eight different sections, each one depicting a different program at the school — from art education, art history, fibers and foundations to graphic design, painting, photography and printmaking.

The School of Art and Design will open when classes begin at MU on Aug. 11.

Jarvis said she will use the $2,500 prize money toward her room and board at Marshall.

The 19-year-old is a graduate of Princeton High School and Mercer County Technical Education Center.

“When I was researching colleges, I looked at Marshall University’s art department and decided it had what I needed to grow as an artist.”

Williams, Tri-State Transit Authority Executive Director Paul Davis, and Donald Van Horn, dean of the College of Arts and Media, judged the public art competition.

It was funded by Pullman Square and represents the new connections that the Visual Arts Center will make to the future and community.

Pullman Square — located between Eighth and 10th streets and Third Avenue and Veterans Memorial Boulevard — was completed in 2004. It features shopping, dining and entertainment options, and is credited with reviving downtown Huntington.

“This is a great opportunity to unite our students with our community and a downtown business partner to bring public art to Pullman Square,” Van Horn said.

The fiberglass bison was purchased from Cowpainters, a Chicago company that specializes in the design and fabrication of fiberglass animals for public art projects.

“The Thundering Herd mascot is a bison. That’s why they chose this. There had been discussion for several years and Pullman Square approached us with the idea to sponsor a bison in a public setting. We put this project together and offered a contest with our students.

“Our hope is that this initial project will inspire other businesses to get on board to do additional bison as public art in Huntington,” Van Horn said.

Williams also is hoping for more public art in Huntington.

“We are trying to connect the downtown with the university,” he said. “I encourage public art throughout the city. It’s creating a nexus. It’s a new day in Huntington and art will take our downtown in a new direction. Art lifts us to a better part of ourselves.”

For more information about the Visual Arts Center and MU’s School of Art and Design, visit

Reach Judy E. Hamilton at, 304-348-1230 or follow @JudyEHamilton on Twitter.

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