St. George’s wandering bison honoring veterans finding a permanent home

ST. GEORGE — For anyone new to St. George, there are often chance encounters with brightly painted fiberglass bison scattered throughout the region.

Dixie State University’s Trailblazer Art in the City Project features more than 15 painted bison placed throughout Southern Utah. Location and date unspecified | Photo courtesy Dixie State University, St. George News

Usually the remark is, “what the heck” are those all about.

Although the answer might be that they are an homage to wild herds that populate the Henry Mountains northeast of St. George when the early Mormon settlers ventured into Southern Utah, the real answer is that they are part of a growing collection of Dixie State University’s Trailblazer Art in the City Project.

In its fourth year, the project attracts artists to showcase their talents, patrons and businesses who have so far purchased more than 15 bison as a fundraising mechanism for the university, and a chance to raise awareness of the messages behind the work along with rebranding efforts to spotlight St. George as a destination for higher education as the DSU Trailblazers.

All of the proceeds go back into the university’s Town and Gown Initiative which support community development and a university town feel.

One of the most recent bison, “Blazing Freedom,” is currently on a traveling tour around the city. It honors America’s military and veteran community.

One of the most recent addition to Dixie State University Trailblazer Art in the City Project, “Blazing Freedom,” is currently on display at SunRiver Veterans Honor Park. St. George, Utah, date unspecified | Photo courtesy Dixie State University, St. George News

Usually, each bison are commissioned for a permanent home right of the bat, but Blazing Freedom has been a bit of a nomad starting its life at the Washington County Fair, then onward to the Southern Utah Veterans Home in Ivins, before being next placed at Dixie 4 Wheel Drive.

It now grazes at SunRiver Veterans Honor Park through Sept. 13.

Its final pasture is scheduled for a ceremony on Veterans Day – Nov. 11 – at Washington City Veterans Memorial Plaza.

This is the third piece the artist, Jody Gerber, has painted for the Art in the City Project.

“It is challenging painting on something that is three-dimensional because all of my planning is done in the two-dimensional medium of Photoshop,” Gerber said. “When you actually begin painting, you might have to adjust the placement of certain elements because of the changes in shape.”

Born and raised in Ogden – eventually moving to Toquerville – Gerber decided to change course in her life and pursue a degree in art. Gerber, a Dixie State alumnus, is currently enrolled at the Laguna College of Art and Design in Laguna Beach, Calif.

“Learning the fundamentals of art is really important to me,” Gerber said. “When I do a piece of artwork, it needs to be something I feel strongly about. If my heart is not in it, then I do not have a vision of what to make.”

Gerber identifies as a figurative artist and gravitates toward realism.

Her favorite artist is the little-known French artist William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905), whose realistic paintings used mythological themes to make modern interpretations of classical subjects.

When approached with painting a bison that celebrated military veterans, Gerber jumped at the chance.

DSU’s Trailblazer Art in the City Program adds a little whimsy to well-traveled areas of Southern Utah. Location and date unspecified | Photo courtesy Dixie State University, St. George News

“When the idea was given to me, I thought it was a great fit because I have family members who have served in the military,” Gerber said. “So, I have a deep respect for everyone who has served. I feel they are the true heroes and they gave up so much for us to enjoy our freedom.”

As the concept for Blazing Freedom took shape, it quickly became a dedication to duty, honor, country.

Gerber’s sentiments of a personal connection are echoed by the artist’s patron Kelli Charlton.

Charlton’s three sons, stepson and father all served in the military.

“This was close to home for me,” Charlton said. “I grew up in a Navy town and at an early age, I was taught to be very respectful of the men and women who served … fought for me … and gave me the freedoms that I have. Truly, we would not be here without our veterans.”

When commissioned to bring Blazing Freedom to technicolor glory, the word “privileged” sprang to mind for Charlton.

“This held so much value for me,” she added.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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