Bloody buffalo hunt diorama to stay in Colorado History Museum collection

Categories: Art, Education

Photo by Melanie Asmar
Are those kids playing catch with an eyeball? Grody.

Spilled entrails. Dogs guarding picked-over bones. Men dangling raw flesh above their mouths like bunches of grapes. Children tossing an eyeball back and forth.

Sound like the apocalypse? A cannibal's birthday party?

No, it's the best diorama ever -- and lucky for Denver, it's sticking around.

Called "Arapaho Indians Preparing Buffalo Meat," the diorama was constructed for the Colorado History Museum during the Great Depression by artists employed by three different federal relief agencies, including the Works Progress Administration. The idea was to give artists stuff to do -- paint intestines! make tiny spears! -- while there weren't any jobs on account of the economy.

buffalo head.JPG
Photo by Melanie Asmar
Mmmm. Buffalo head.

As the history museum prepares to move next year from its space at 1300 Broadway to a parking lot directly south of 1290 Broadway to make room for a new state judicial complex, we here at Westword were worried about the fate of the museum's dioramas -- a total of seventeen, according to our count.

But museum spokeswoman Rebecca Laurie says we have nothing to worry about -- yet. As of now, the dioramas are staying in the collection and will make the half-block move. "They're beloved by the visitors and the curators," Laurie says.

True that. But are the scenes of Native American villages, fur trappers' winter camps and sweaty gold mines historically accurate depictions of life in olden times? An explanation mounted beneath each diorama suggests maybe not.

Photo by Melanie Asmar
No use crying over spilled intestines.

"The scenes depicted in these dioramas are accurate in detail," it says, "but the artists chose their subject matter primarily for dramatic effect rather than as a systematic representation of tribal or frontier life."

Ah, those dramatic artists. But as museum Curator Moya Hansen says, "Whether they're accurate or not, we still like them." Especially the bloody, eyeball-y ones.

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