Where have all the bison gone? One will return to downtown, but not for a while

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This bison statue used to stand in front of Dempsey's in downtown Fargo but has been removed during the construction. Forum file photo

FARGO — Some people pose for a photo next to them.

Others sit on them for a photo. Lights are spread across at least one of them during the holiday season.

For some, just looking at them is a matter of civic, state or North Dakota State University Bison pride.

Yet those colorful, 100-pound, 5-foot-high, 8-foot-long and 3-foot-wide bison statues found downtown are now all gone, although one will be back after a temporary move.

The one that will be back by fall is the bison at the corner of Broadway and Main Avenue next to Wimmer's Diamonds where the road reconstruction project has ripped apart the entire intersection, including the landscaped area where the bison once sat.


The landscaping firm hired to do work along Main Avenue — Turf Tamers — has transported the bison back to its shop for safekeeping, and the move went just fine. Heavy barriers are protecting the bison to make sure it doesn't escape, the landscapers joked.

The statue will be put back in nearly the same location once construction is completed, according to Jeremy Gorden, city transportation division engineer.

The bison, called "Sunny," is owned by the Wimmer family.

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"Sunny," the bison that has adorned the corner of Broadway and Main Avenue in downtown Fargo, was decorated last winter with lights for the holiday season. Barry Amundson / The Forum

Aaron Wimmer said his father, Brad, keeps putting money into the bison. Why? Because it's been knocked down in two accidents and also blew away in a wind gust one time into the center of Main Avenue. Each time his dad had it repaired.

"It's cost him thousands," Wimmer said.

Meanwhile, the other downtown bison by Atomic Coffee and Dempsey's along Broadway has been donated to the Circle of Nations School in Wahpeton by coffee shop owner Gane Benedict Skatvold, who owned the bison along with local artist Steve "Spider" Johnk.


Skatvold said the reason she and Johnk were approached more than a year ago by the Downtown Community Partnership who wanted to have the bison moved to make room for a mini-park on the land where it was displayed.

The colorful bison statue that was in front of Atomic Coffee and Dempsey's Public House on Broadway in downtown Fargo has been donated and moved away. Barry Amundson / The Forum

She said the city's arts and culture committee then asked if they would donate it to the Wahpeton school where the art department would restore the weathered paint and put it on display at the school.

"I thought this was the perfect home for our bison," she said.

The two bison are part of a total of 39 bison and a calf that were part of the "Herd About the Prairie" virtual art stampede that started in 2005 when creator Hans Gildorf of Detroit Lakes, Minn., made "Beach Buff" the first statue in the arts extravaganza project.

The mold for the 39 bison was made by Joe Halko of Choteau, Mont., and 40 artists from North Dakota and Minnesota painted and decorated the bison. They all had their debut in May 2006 during the Fargo Marathon and then were either kept by their sponsors that included a wide variety of businesses or individuals or auctioned off.


A painted bison statue is on display Friday, July 12, in front of the Red River Zoo, Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Where they all ended up is somewhat of a mystery, although the location of some are known. Jack Lunde of Fargo painted one that has a tiger theme that is now at the Red River Valley Zoo. Another sits in front of the Rourke Art Museum in downtown Moorhead. One is inside West Acres mall.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum purchased three of them at the auction, and his communications director Mike Nowatzki joked this past week that the governor said the bison "have been returned to the native prairie grasses and became roaming bison again."

Forum Communications was another sponsor of one of the bison. Publisher Bill Marcil Jr. said the bison, which was finished off with artwork by Johnk, is in the lobby of the WDAY tower building off of Eighth Street.

The Arts Partnership of Fargo has a book about the bison project, but director of operations Tania Blanich doesn't know where all of the bison roamed to either. She said she has been surprised that some of the statues kept outdoors have survived this long.

As for the Wimmer Diamonds bison, its future is part of an effort during city road projects to preserve artwork and history.

A painted bison statue is on display Friday, July 12, in front of the Rourke Art Museum, Moorhead. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Gorden said when street projects are done in the city they pay attention to the artwork or other historic features. For example, he said when the sidewalk is replaced next year in the second year of the Main Avenue project a historic logo in the sidewalk by the former DeLendrecie's Department Store building will be saved and put back into the sidewalk.

Gorden also said bricks underneath some downtown streets from the city's early days are also sometimes saved and incorporated into a project. When a bridge is replaced, he said they try to save part of a railing or another part of the structure to keep some of the history alive. For example, a railing was saved from the University Drive underpass near Main Avenue and put into the new construction.

Note: If you know where any of the other 39 bison or calf statues are located, please email or call 701-451-5665.

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