The Billings Outpost

Metal bison honor Putnam

Tom Benford, traces the heart line of a forged steel model of a minimalist style bison designed by award-winning Joliet artist Charles Ringer. Sory and photo By JANE WHITE - The Billings Outpost

A nationally known artist from Joliet, Charles Ringer, and a group of energetic community leaders in Billings seek to create a minimalist style forged steel monument of three bison – a bull, cow and calf –  to grace the airport grounds sometime next spring.

Mr. Ringer on Wednesday was scheduled to receive the Buffalo Bill Art Show and Sale Honored Artist Award, according to Director Kathy Thompson.

“Charles Ringer was selected out of 109 artists who contributed their works to the sale, and he was selected because of his unique style, creative use of metal and sense of humor,” she said.

In a six-minute video on the Buffalo Bill Art Show and Sale website, Mr. Ringer said, “All of a sudden, I am getting the Honored Artist Award … it is a definite honor … I hope it can open eyes to different avenues of art, different thinking processes and everything associated with my being different.”

He chuckled often in the video, surrounded by his intriguing metal sculptures and covered by his curly white beard, which grew well below his chin. His humorous spirit is apparently congruous with that of Bruce Putnam, who managed the airport for almost three decades and whose spirit many of his friends in Billings want to honor by way of the three-bison monument.

The people who mourn the death of Mr. Putnam include Tom Benford, who now runs the airport; Mark Kennedy, chairman of the Building Bison for Bruce monument committee; Teresa Darnielle, volunteer assistant director of planned giving with the Billings Community Foundation and a certified financial planner; and Terry Zee Lee, a community volunteer.

Ms. Darnielle, who is employed with RBC Wealth Management, said that the role of the Billings Community Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, as a financial sponsor for the monument committee “increases their odds of success. It makes it more possible to entice donors and makes it even more attractive for potential donors.”

She said the BCF financial sponsorship helps the Build Bison for Bruce monument avoid major delays.

“For a project like this to be finished at the end of 2013 – it takes the Internal Revenue service a year to get a determination [of special tax status].” A Billings native, Ms. Darnielle said of the monument, “Creating something like this in Billings helps preserve the fine quality of life we have here in Billings.”

She said that the BCF covers a six-county area and that charitable projects as close as Stillwater County and even as far away as Miles City owe their secure financial functioning to the BCF.

“We were incorporated in 2006, but we did not become an official nonprofit until 2007. The Community Foundation is geographically located here with Billings as its home base, but it [benefits] an area much wider.”

Ms. Lee said that the establishment of the monument would honor the memory of Mr. Putnam, who was during his short retirement looking forward to tracing his lineage potentially back to Native Americans.

He thought he may have been part Native American, Ms. Lee said, and one of the things he wanted to do was research his native heritage. Ms. Lee added that Mr. Putnam was a dedicated leader who served Billings at the local, state and national levels.

“Bruce was the president of a national organization for aviation administrators,” she said. She added that the three bison will honor all the Native Nations and be a major tourist attraction.

“The tourists coming to Montana want to see Montanan, Native American and Western things of intent. To have three buffalo there will be a welcoming addition showing the predominance they once had,” she said.

Another committee member, Dick Hall, said that he looked forward to the monument committee’s next meeting to be scheduled sometime after Labor Day and that he liked working “in the background” to facilitate the installation of the bison monument. He added that he missed the “great spirit” of Mr. Putnam.

Mr. Benford, 59, is from Houston, Texas, but he has lived in Billings for 29 years.

“Bruce liked beautification and always wanted bison on display as a way to welcome people to Montana,” he said. “We want to have natural grasses, yucca and rocks and a sign to explain the importance of bison here.” Expounding on the intellectual prowess of the late Mr. Putnam, Benford added, “Bruce had a master’s degree in American history from Montana State University Billings.” I hope the kids will become more interested in the history of this area.” His associate, Mark Kennedy, said that more displays of the bison associated with Building Bison for Bruce will be available after Labor Day.

“We hope to have a display at the First Interstate Bank lobby and perhaps at the Billings Chamber of Commerce,” he said. Enjoying his role with the committee, he said, “This thing has taken on a life of its own; it’s a fun little project to be involved in.”

Two sizes of the forged steel bison are available for $500 each for a 19-inch replica – and for $400, an 11-inch model is available.

Mr. Benford said, “We want to sell the little ones to generate funds for the big ones.”

To purchase the replicas, contact Terry Zee Lee at (406) 698-9369, Tom Benford at the airport, or Mark Kennedy or Suzanne McKiernan at the Billings Community Foundation, Check out to see the monumental bison and other metal sculptures.

Copyright 2012 Wild Raspberry Inc.

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