Students, artist create living art

Photo by Daniel Dancer
Artist Daniel Dancer shot this picture from the bucket of a Mission Valley Power utility truck last week, as part of his "Art for the Sky" project. You can view more of Dancer's work at, to see other projects he's done with students around the country.
By Karen Peterson
Leader Staff

MOISE -- Six hundred third and fourth grade students from schools on the Flathead Indian Reservation formed a living, temporary work of art -- a buffalo -- that was only visible from high above the field west of Ronan.

Students followed a trail, which, coupled with their colored T-shirts, created the buffalo which was photographed from above.

"What an amazing day in October. We are all in our T-shirts next to the river. What a beautiful sight," artist Daniel Dancer said. "Think about what our world needs and what we need [as you're] in the shape of the buffalo, the only one with blue eyes. As individual beads, lets think about that."

Dancer directed the students with a megaphone before he climbed into the bucket of a Mission Valley Power truck to be lifted 80 feet into the air.

"The path goes into the belly of the buffalo. Stand three feet apart. Honor the lines because that is the shape. All the black goes first. One class at a time," he directed.

Once the students lined up according to the black or white colors of their shirts, they created an image of Big Medicine, a white buffalo that lived on the reservation for 26 years. After working out a few more details from an aerial view, Dancer took the photograph of the image that the students created.

"I look at this like it's Woodstock for grade school kids and some day this project will come up and they can say, 'yeah, I was there,'" said Rob McDonald, the appointed coordinator by the Tribes for the Big Medicine project.

The project started after Keryl Lozar, a Polson schoolteacher, decided to invite Dancer to the area so that local students could participate in one of his projects. Lozar then collaborated with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes to coordinate the event.

"This is the first partnership we have had with all the schools which has challenged us and Dancer. One community, one work of art, you can't top that. The artist has done dozens of these kinds of projects with different ideas and we are lucky to have him here. There couldn't have been a happier image than Big Medicine," McDonald said.

Before the busloads of students could arrive, schools were contacted and teachers were informed about the event so that they could prepare their students.

"These teachers are professionals and they had a huge part of getting the kids together. They have the ability to quiet 30 kids by simply raising their hand. That's amazing to me," he said.

Students put on shirts to prepare for the event.

"It's a good thing to respect the reservation. The albino buffalo was on the reservation and it will give our reservation pride," said Israel Umphrey, third grade Mission student.

One of the students wearing a white T-shirt was patiently following the line of students that twisted towards the main outline of the buffalo.

"I'm having fun. We are doing a big sky picture," said fourth grade Charlo student Sienna Brown.

Tribal council member Rueben Mathias stated that when he was a student this project would have never happened and he was happy to see situations on the reservation have changed. He also talked about the significance of the white buffalo.

"The buffalo is very powerful in our religion. I'm grateful for the teachers for giving us this pleasure," he said.

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