The National Bison Range can add fine art to its list of attractions, with the donation of an immaculate wood carving now dominating the visitor center.
Officially revealed during an unveiling ceremony on Friday, the piece was crafted from a single, 1,200-pound log by renowned wood worker John Sharp and donated by John and Barbara Kackley of Mineral Point, Wisconsin.
“It’s a museum quality piece,” Jim Kackley said. “It belongs where more people can see it.”
A long-time bison enthusiast, Kackley said he commissioned the piece after learning that Sharp, his neighbor, was a world-famous wood carver.
Kackley’s original vision involved a prairie scene complete with little animals dotting the landscape. Sharp, however, gave direction for the final product, which depicts a herd of bison running shoulder to shoulder, tongues lagging and tails outstretched.
Laura King, a program specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who helped arrange the carving’s transfer, said the piece reminds her of stories of the Lewis and Clark Expedition which described massive herds of bison that took days to pass by camp.
“I think it tells that story beautifully,” she said. “We’re unbelievably honored.”
This sentiment was shared by Sharp and the Kackleys, who traveled from Wisconsin for the unveiling ceremony.
After proudly displaying the piece in their entryway for years, the Kackley’s began to ponder the carving’s future after they built a smaller home.
“We didn’t want it sitting in some storage room,” Barbara said.
The couple considered a handful of public locations, such as Theodore Roosevelt National Park, but eventually settled on the National Bison Range, for obvious reasons.
“We had visited a few years back and we just thought it was perfect,” Jim said.
King said the pictures Kackley sent of the carving were impressive enough, but once she learned of its dimensions the scope of the project emerged.
“I immediately looked around the visitor center trying to find a place to put it,” she said.
Trucked across the country inside custom crates, which King said were feats of craftsmanship themselves, the carving now stands front and center inside a lighted glass case.
The exhibit is a first for Sharp, who typically works with private collectors.
“I’m thrilled that it’s going to be on public display,” Sharp said.
Sharp carved the piece from a single Wisconsin walnut log, which he discovered in a junkyard ravine several towns away from his home. Faced with the difficult task of merely moving the mammoth piece of wood into his shop, Sharp cut the log in half, then splice the segments together with seamless accuracy. He then worked for a year, whittling away until the individual animals emerged.
“They were kind enough not to give me deadline,” Sharp said.
The final product includes impeccable details from hoof to tail, which stand erect in true excited bison form.
“It’s a little hard to give it up,” Jim Hackney admitted at the unveiling ceremony. “But I want to see one of (Sharp’s) pieces get the recognition it deserves. He’s such a quiet and self-effacing guy.”
With the range’s popular Red Sleep Mountain Drive now open, this attention will likely come. King said the visitor center typically hosts between 400 and 700 people each day during the busy summer season.
“We have a 109-year legacy and this has now joined it,” King said. “This now belongs to the American people.”