This article originally appeared in the Rensselaer Republican, July 25, written by editor Caitlin Sievers and titled “Group paints pieces of Jasper County: Bicentennial bison shows off local history, pride”
Through hundreds of hours of work, five local artists transformed the county’s state bicentennial bison into a piece they hope represents the essence of Jasper County.
The bison is one of many purchased throughout the state through the United Way with the intention of having one to represent each county. The local bison is a colorful melding of meaningful images from all over the county, from well-known landmarks to local flora and fauna.
The five artists, dubbed the “Bison Belles” by their oldest member, Doris Myers, nearly 95, decided to work together on the bison after three of them, Christine Herre, Cindy Ziese and Kayla Groen, submitted separate proposals for the bison’s design to the Jasper County Tourism Commission. The commission asked Myers, a long-time local artist to contribute to the project. Completing the group was Lindsey Preston, Groen’s former art teacher at Kankakee Valley High School, who the ladies asked to join them.
Each woman worked on separate specific images gracing the bison, but they all came together to work on some portions, like the Indiana State Tree.
“I wanted to represent the north end, so I chose to do the old Kankakee River before it was dredged with a couple of explorers kicking off from the shore,” Myers said.
She also painted the Wheatfield Library, the Potawatomi Park Bridge in Rensselaer, and the state flower, the peony.
Herre chose to represent the agricultural parts of Jasper County.
“I am born and raised a farmer,” she said.
She covered the bison with a harvest scene at sunset, a cow and pig, as well as an Indian and eagle, representing the county’s Native American history. Preston’s contributions to the bison included Indiana wildlife, such as a native butterfly and a white-tailed buck. She also transformed the bison’s tail into one of the county’s crops: wheat. Ziese painted notable landmarks like Saint Joseph’s College and the Remington water tower. She also represented the state bird, the cardinal, and a wine bottle and label which contains the ladies’ signatures. Groen worked on mostly images of DeMotte, including the windmill, tulips, and wooden shoes to represent the town’s Dutch history. She also painted the DeMotte Train Depot with a Studebaker (an Indiana-made car) in the parking lot as a representation of all the car shows in the county. Groen’s other contributions included a grain elevator, a sandhill crane, representing Wheatfield, and a scroll with the lyrics from “Back Home Again in Indiana,” a song written by James Hanley, who was born in Rensselaer.
The artists hope that the bison inspires some curiosity about the county in those who view it.
“I hope they learn the history of the 200 years that it’s supposed to represent,” Ziese said.
The Belles learned some new things about the county themselves as they researched images to paint on the bison.
“I think there are things on there that people wouldn’t think about,” Myers said.
Those who view the work of art continue to find new aspects that they might not have caught at first glimpse.
“I think another important thing is just that people take pride in where they live,” Preston said. “That this is an important place and that they’re proud to be from Jasper County.”
The women estimated that they spent a total of around 500 hours working on the bison. The work began June 6, as they prepared the bison to be painted by sanding, patching holes, and applying a base coat. That alone took around 15 hours. The group completed the bison on July 10, after which it received a clear coat from Jonkman Garage.
The women all agreed that it was an amazing experience to work on the bison together. Most of the time, two or three of them worked on the project during the day while the others labored over the piece at night, but there were a few times when all of the women worked on the bison together.
“It was one of those relationships, though, that we almost hated to see end, or at least that’s the way I feel,” Myers said.
The others agreed. The Belles who were not previously part of the Jasper County Art League plan to join so that they can all stay in touch.
The women said they felt humbled and honored to have worked on the bison, which will tour the county’s festivals this summer and will be featured in the state’s bicentennial torch relay when it comes through the county on Oct. 11.
“They may have chosen my design, but we put our designs together to come up with one design,” Herre said. “It’s an honor to call it our design.”
The bison, named “Jasper” was officially unveiled at the opening of the Jasper County Fair. After the torch relay, the bison will be permanently displayed at an undetermined location in the county.
“I think the county’s going to be proud of it, too,” Myers said.
Bison Group Photo (above): The artists who transformed the county’s bicentennial bison into a work of art are back row left to right Doris Myers, Christine Herre and Cindy Ziese. Seated are Kayla Groen (left) and Lindsey Preston.