“It’s Oklahoma, and everyone likes buffaloes.”
That’s the short story of why Tulsa artist Christopher Mantle began painting buffaloes. The long story involves flute-playing, the Holy Spirit, a palindrome and recycling.
“You would get a buffalo and make something out of all its parts. So I say to the kids, ‘When you get a present and it’s all wrapped up in a box with paper and a bow, that’s your buffalo.
Born in Lafayette, La., Mantle has the twang and storytelling gift associated with the southern state.
“I smell like a magnolia and the sweetness of the evening,” Mantle says of his southern upbringing.
Mantle’s inspiration for painting the buffalo came after learning of his Cherokee heritage.
“I started thinking about them eating buffalo meat. … Is it embedded in my genetics? My DNA?” he asks. “My inspiration comes from the Holy Spirit. I want a harmonious life with everything. If it’s a crooked floor, maybe I’ll walk so as to keep it straight.”
Learning that the white buffalo was a American Indian symbol meaning, “God’s grace is upon us,” according to Mantle, further inspired his art.
“When I’m painting, it’s like God saying, ‘Look what I can do through this person.’ That’s why I have the squiggle line signature on my paintings. It spells MAN frontwards and backwards. I try not to be vain. All of mankind has let me create this art. We all take part.”
Mantle and his girlfriend, Lauren Rainbow Lunsford, give presentations on art and recycling at area schools. Mantle thinks of the buffalo as a recycling metaphor.
“You would get a buffalo and make something out of all its parts. So I say to the kids, ‘When you get a present and it’s all wrapped up in a box with paper and a bow, that’s your buffalo. You have the meat inside, the gift, but what do you make with the hair, skin and bones around it?’”
Mantle, whose colorful paintings of buffaloes sell as quickly as he paints them, will be a featured artist at the Cow Thieves and Outlaws Reunion, an annual event at Woolaroc in Bartlesville on Oct. 4.