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Say "Hello" to Bysontine
This was a project we put together a few years back as a conference...

Bysontine, the Byzantine Buffalo

Description: This buffalo sculpture is decorated as a tribute to medieval and Byzantine artwork. The mosaic covering the surface will be made from small ceramic tiles depicting historical icons found in medieval artwork throughout catacombs and basilicas of Europe and Asia Minor.

Before I filled out any paperwork, I scanned the image and sent it back to Tammy to show her my basic idea. She forwarded it on to the Nature Conservancy, and I received an email that the design was pre approved that same day. My paperwork went in the following Monday.

Now, becoming an approved artist was only the first step in this process. The next step was actually paying the Nature Conservancy for a buffalo. With a $3500 price tag, that is no small feat. I thought about potential sponsors that might have that sort of money, and I eventually decided to offer the idea to our local syndical conference of the ELCA. Sponsors get to place their logo or name on the buffalo, and I thought that it would be neat to have the ELCA logo among all the historical icons. They have decided to make a go of it, appealing to the congregations for the extra money that they do not have. I, in turn, discovered that I could waive the artist's fee of $1000 and knock the price of the buffalo down by that much. Forgoing the honorarium was also instrumental in my taking this buffalo into the classroom and making it into a group project.

And so, with about fifteen of the initial fiberglass buffalo left, we set out to the warehouse to pick one up and transport it back to my classroom in McLoud, OK. Two of the conference pastors brought their truck to haul this 120 lb. shell back to the classroom. The base is solid steel and outweighs the buffalo by about twice as much.

We had to make a couple of stops along the way for rope and a new car battery for my vehicle, but eventually we got the buffalo tied down and onto interstate 40 for the journey.

It is a good thing that this shell fit through the classroom door. I had initially measured it and it has about one and a half inches of clearance between it and the metal door jam. As long as the tiles are less than half an inch thick on the sides, it should be able to leave the classroom as well. The base, however, will have to leave the room separately.

The buffalo is in the classroom, so it is now time to begin the transformation. It came pre primed, and with only three weeks left in the school year, we must now cover this shell entirely in ceramic tile and grout. We eventually temporarily attached the base to this sculpture for stability.

First I had to assemble some of the proper tools. I pulled out several pairs of pliers and wrench like vises. Safety gloves and goggles are a necessity any time a project includes sharp edges and smashing as a process. I also specifically bought tile pliers, and tile and cement nippers. The initial adhesive that I purchased was liquid nails in caulking tubes.

The tiles for this project were being donated by Ann and Larry from their ceramic business. They have gotten behind this project from the beginning, and have been handing off boxes of tile to me at church. These tiles have been scored for breaking with tile pliers.

Also, before any of the tiles could be placed, I had to pencil in the icons. After looking at the texture of the buffalo, I decided to make the icons on the lumpier forward areas thicker than my initial design. This would add more of a weighty feeling to the hump and shoulders. This changed some of the placement of the icons, but did not significantly alter the overall design.

After a little preparation, we have begun the first part of the tiling process - filling in the icons with mixtures of cool colors. In order to play up the entire mosaic idea, I decided to have boxes of colored tile 'mixes'. So there is a box for blues, one for greens, one for violets, etc. Whenever one of the areas calls for a certain color, the mixture of tiles covers a wide range, eventually mixing in a pointillistic technique.

The tiles are often wider than the textures and crevices of this sculpture. The colors are used to differentiate areas like the nose and eyes, but most of the details in the contours are lost.

Still, careful breaking and cutting does allow for detailed outlines when necessary.

It took a couple of weeks to completely cover the Buffalo sculpture an its base. There are some empty patches left in the corners of the base for tiles with writing on them. Everyone who worked on the buffalo was allowed to sign a corner tile in under glaze. Those tiles were added later after they had been fired.

The grouting was done all in one day. We used large rubber spatulas for a lot of the open areas, but with the intricate angles and curves on the buffalo, a lot of grout had to be added with fingers. The base was rather simple to grout by comparison. After four 25lb bags of grout, it takes a toll on the fingers, even with rubber gloves available.

The grout was left to cure for a couple of days before we used brushes to coat it with a gallon of sealer. All told it was about seven coats. Then we buffed the sealer off the tiles, allowing them to shine.

Some of the High School faculty came out and gave the buffalo a lift onto a flat bed truck that we arranged for transport. The buffalo and the base were moved separately, and then bolted together for stability.

Once at the display site, we removed the buffalo from the flat bed by unbolting it and removing the buffalo and base separately once again. When it was positioned and re bolted, I pulled out my repair kit and replaced two tiles that had been knocked off the end of a hoof.

Some of the crew at the display site stuck around for some pictures.