Buffalo and calf sculpture -- supporting Autism Awareness Month

James Beaty, McAlester News-Capital, Okla.
·3 min read

Apr. 2—A group of McAlester city employees have found a way to keep the lines of vision open for motorists and pedestrians near a downtown mini mall, while also supporting Autism Awareness Month.

They've placed a new metal sculpture of a buffalo and calf — created in the form of puzzle pieces— at the site, where it now serves the dual purpose. Already, it's proving popular, with people stopping and taking photos next to the colorful sculpture.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control shows autism is the fastest growing developmental disorder in the United States with one in 54 children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Autism Awareness Month, or Autism Acceptance Month, is celebrated in April to promote improved understanding and acceptance of people diagnosed with autism.

Originally, the city workers planned to place a large buffalo statue at the location, similar to ones already placed around the city — but that proved impractical and could have been dangerous. They noticed the size of a larger buffalo statue may have made it difficult for some drivers to see at the nearby intersection of South Second Street and Chickasaw Avenue, since some could have had their line of vision partially blocked.

That's when they came up with the alternate idea.

Engineering Tech Johnny Reich credited Street Maintenance Supervisor Tommy Hill with the concept for the project. If one of the bigger buffalo statues was too big to place at the location, he suggested they create a smaller buffalo sculpture of their own.

"Tommy came up with the idea," Reich said. "I drew it out on a piece of paper. I used an old overhead projector and we cut it out." The idea is for the different shapes and colors to symbolize the diversity of individuals and families living with autism.

Workers fired up a welder as the piece began coming together.

"It's all welded to a steel plate," said Reich.

Street Maintenance Foreman James Roberts assisted with getting the sculpture bolted down to the concrete and in-place at the site, with Fleet Maintenance Foreman Shannon "Crash" Barkley also assisting with the project.

While all were glad to help, it proved especially touching for Hill, who said he has a grandson facing the challenges of autism.

Reich said City Manager Pete Stasiak and Assistant City Manager Toni Ervin were shown the finished work before it was mounted at its present location.

"They liked it and approved it," Reich said.

He noted other city employees, including those at the Parks Department, are putting other puzzle-piece displays around McAlester and he said they will also be highlighting other causes.

For April, the sculpture is set to represent autism awareness, but that could change once Autism Awareness Month concludes at the end of the month. It may even be reimagined at some point to represent an entirely different cause.

"We're talking about using it as a platform," said Reich, referring to using the sculpture to highlight other causes throughout the year.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.