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Hugging a Copper Bison, An article wirtten by Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer, published on the First Peoples Fund web site celebrating the Ancient Dignity Sculpture.

Ancient Dignity II

While researching the ancient Copper Culture of Wisconsin and Michigan, I learned that bones from the extinct Bison Occidentalis, were found with a hammered copper pike (spear) in northern Wisconsin. To Native Americans, the bison (American Buffalo) is a symbol of abundance and sacred life. My artistic goal has always been to honor and share the Native American history and culture of the Great Lakes region and especially the history of my tribe, the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin. Inspired by this archeological find here in Wisconsin, I began work on a copper bison assemblage, initially creating a "maquette" sized sculpture with thoughts of one day creating a life-size version.

We named the bison Ancient Dignity Returns to symbolize and honor the ancient wisdom, pride, and majesty of both the bison and the Native people. It was embellished with a Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) wampum belt around its waist and around each ankle that represented the Great Law of Peace. Wampum belts were white and purple beads carved from the Quahog shell, symbolically woven and patterned, to depict our history, traditions, and laws. The Great Law of Peace wampum belt symbolized the permanence of the Iroquois Confederacy. Initially made up of five independent Nations: Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca, they were later joined by the Tuscarora. These Six Nations took the path of peace and friendship, uniting as a confederacy under the Great Law of Peace. The repeated triangular pattern represents a great white pine tree (evergreen/everlasting peace). This consensus of rules and agreements was written by the Haudenosonee women….and after Ben Franklin learned the languages and translated The Great Law of Peace, it became the framework of our U.S. Constitution. The bison sculpture was also embellished with a raised circular symbol on the hips representing the Medicine Wheel, a universal symbol of peaceful interaction among Nations that represents the healing of the whole self. The lightning bolt and dot pattern running down the hind legs represented the Thunders (Grandfathers), who are very loud and bring the rain to Mother Earth. 

••• Ancient Dignity II Awards•••

  • IACA 2015 "Artist of the Year" 2nd Place Ribbon (Indian Arts & Crafts Association)
  • Woodland Indian Art Show- (3 ribbons) **Best of Show, **1st Place Ribbon in Sculpture, AND **People's Choice Ribbon

••• FIRST PEOPLES FUND 2015 Artist in Business Leadership •••

I want to give a sincere, heartfelt thanks and recognition to the First Peoples Fund for this great honor and opportunity. The First Peoples Fund grant, along with additional financial support from my older brother Jack, allowed me to purchase materials and begin work on a life size version named Ancient Dignity Returns. Thanks must also be given to Loretta Webster (Oneida Historian) and Joe Zeller (River Trading Post Gallery) for their kind words of support on my FPF application. Our talented and hard working son, Erik (professional stylist at Carenza) has been assisting me with both welding and styling the thousands of solid copper hair strands. 

  • Ancient Dignity is a 1200 pound copper sculpture that stands 5 feet 6 inches high, 7 feet 6 inches wide, and 3 feet 6 inches deep. 
  • 5,000 feet of 4 gauge solid copper wire hair individually cut, welded in hard silver solder, and then styled
  • 1,800 hours of cutting, hand-pounding, forming, welding, and grinding 
  • Industrial wheels can be removed from the 4 bolt steel plate inside each hoof for permanent installation
  • Access panel for crane installation

Sculpture can say something about you, what you do, who you are. Custom bison orders welcome for your business, home, or community.


Honored by the Tewa Nation Buffalo Clan