Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Whose Bison?

We start our story today not in Rauner but looking at the first annual report of the American Bison Society, published in 1908. The frontispiece is a watercolor painting of, not surprisingly, an American bison, attributed in the list of illustrations to Maxfield Parrish. However, in Dartmouth’s copy of the report, Parrish’s name has been inked out. Curiously, it is also inked out on the e-version one can find on various online sites. Is there some question about Parrish having painted the bison? Referring to the papers of Maxfield Parrish held in Rauner, I find no correspondence with the American Bison Society, nor with Ernest Baynes, the Society’s secretary.

Parrish’s papers include over 40 boxes of glass negatives and slides, images of people and animals, trees and rocks, houses and carts, used by the artist as cooperatively-immobile models for his work. In one box is a glass slide of a bison. Although the background differs between painting and slide, the bison depicted is clearly the same animal, down to the creases in his mane, the angle of his tail, and the light spot on his hip. If this is Parrish’s bison photo, doesn’t it seem likely that he painted the frontispiece?

Of course, also within Parrish’s papers is a scrapbook of photographs taken by Ernest Baynes to illustrate his lectures on wild animals. He had given the scrapbook to Parrish for his children to enjoy. And, yes, the same bison photo is in this album.

Did Parrish use Baynes’ photo as the model for his bison painting?  Was Ernest Baynes also an artist?  Why is the frontispiece attribution to Parrish inked out in copies of the American Bison Society first report?

It’s not always just Cool At Rauner; sometimes it is also mysterious.

Annual Report of the American Bison Society, 1908: Storage 596.9 U5 A512a
Glass slide of a bison, Papers of Maxfield Parrish, ML-62, Box 66
Ernest Baynes’ scrapbook of photographs, Papers of Maxfield Parrish, ML-62, Box 31

1 comment :

  1. N.H.-based Baynes visited Dartmouth to give a lecture and raise funds for bison preservation; he proposed that students choose the bison as Dartmouth's mascot.

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