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Posted on November 29, 2018 at 12:00 PM by Michael Goens
Eyes open wide in astonishment, a 5-foot-5-inch, wispy-built child approaches a bison pelt rising above, like draped from a low-hanging branch. The boy feels the ruglike coat, “Wow, softer than I expected,” he exclaims. Around the neck area, the hide’s coarseness would remind anyone of a scuffed-up boot. Weathered. Harshened.
There’s plenty for all ages to absorb at Flint Hills Discovery Center’s “Bison: The Great American Icon” exhibition that opened in September and continues through January. Your school-aged child will be especially amazed at the hands-on exhibit pieces: bone fragments, horns and mini-wall-sized hide the child checked out on the exhibition’s first weekend.
Bison artifacts on display
A taxidermy mount catches Colby’s eye, at basketball-goal height on the Tallgrass Gallery’s east-facing wall. Check out the head size of this animal! Majestic, though menacing, especially if peering eye-to-eye with the 2,000-pound beast. To far too many people, the outward appearance of a gentle creature. Bison are in fact unpredictable and mean when provoked and more people should know this. Colby takes a step back as if to give the wall-hanging bison its space.
Near to extinction
A mural-sized photo dominated by stacked bison skulls catches his eye as Colby and more visitors move ahead in the exhibition. In this photo circa 1880, a normally-proportioned man on a small stoop appears proportionally as if one of the miniature railroad-worker characters portrayed downstairs in the center's “Fanning the Flames” main exhibit.
Thousands of skulls. Bison skulls. Stacked like firewood, would be enough to heat 30-40 log cabins for many winters. Maybe 2-3 “stories” high. Staggering. Devastating. The mind wanders to rotted flesh that might have gone with this slaughter. That much is tough for a child to comprehend. Nonetheless, all part of the educational venture for children and adults to consume on a trip through the second-floor Tallgrass Gallery in Manhattan. Bison by the numbers
See-touch-feel bison ‘tools’
The trip winds through hands-on displays to photographic exhibit pieces that depict the American bison’s near-destruction to rally back from the endangered list. A table contains touchable items – bison fragments – used as period tools by Native Americans. Hooves, horns – “this could be used for drinking,” the young boy guesses – all the way to scapula, bladder (“yuck”) and tail with cards that explain each part’s usage on the prairie.
Through a child’s eyes
Your kids can place their hands on these parts and mentally process their conventional use. Photo representations are real eye-openers as the exhibition circles around to modern commercialization like as the Buffalo Bills pro football team’s mascot. It shouldn’t be hard to get your kid wrapped up in “Bison.”
Colby’s summarization went something like this: “I had a good experience and it was fun to see how the buffaloes were used. My perspective of the bison exhibit was cool and exciting and I would do it again. For me the most interesting part was seeing all the different parts and how they were used. It was weird to learn that the Native Americans used every single part of the buffalo. Altogether, my experience was great.”
Bison: The Great American Icon
On display in the second-floor Tallgrass Gallery through Jan. 13, 2019, accompanied by works from Konza Prairie Quilters Guild and “Wolves and Wild Lands” in mezzanine gallery adjacent to “Bison.” Flint Hills Discovery Center is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, with 8 p.m. Thursday close (noon to 5 p.m. Sundays). The next exhibition, "Framed: Step Into Art," debuts Jan. 26. $9 standard admission with youth discounts and for college students, military and seniors.
Flint Hills Discovery Center 2019 exhibitions Vision and Future for FHDC
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