An Orbit Obit: Where the Buffalo Roamed

sidewalk painting of purple and white buffalo with painted fence

Last photographic evidence of the now-extinct sidewalk buffalo of lower Lawrenceville, Summer 2015

The lore will be passed-down for generations to come. It was a time when proud giants strode the streets (err…sidewalks) of lower Lawrenceville; their brilliant purple, red, white, and gold colors shimmering and electrifying the drab, weed-cracked concrete blocks. Mere mortals freely walked foot-to-hoof with these legendary lords of the great plains. Every one of the animals was rendered in its own style–the group less herd and more party of like-shaped individuals; each creature with its own agenda. Though trampled underfoot, they still managed to stand tall–at least if you stood back far enough to get the angle right.

sidewalk painting of purple, red, and white buffalo

Purple pain: one big hombre

If you find yourself at the corner of 35th and Charlotte Streets in Lawrenceville’s sixth ward, you won’t miss Jeremy Raymer‘s house. The otherwise standard-issue two-story Pittsburgh rowhouse is covered–foundation to soffit–in big, eye-popping mural portraiture. Around the side, a gray, picket fence is more loosely painted in an ever-evolving array of icons. The closest telephone pole is covered in an odd assortment of push-pinned offerings. [More about all of this, hopefully, in some future Orbit story.] The one thing you won’t see anymore is the fantastic parade of buffalo that roamed freely on Raymer’s sidewalks just weeks ago.

sidewalk painting of purple and white buffalo

Lascaux-a-go’alo: caveman street buffalo

It was a surprise to see them disappear so quickly. Street art is by its very nature temporary/ephemeral, but we hope the good stuff will get a little time in the sunshine before the man sends in the clouds. Having just taken these photos in August, we arrived back at the same intersection a mere couple months later with nothing but the faintest outlines of the great beasts remaining. It was a sad reminder of both how fleeting grace can be and also how potentially on-the-verge-of-dissolution pretty much everything is. The great American street bison is clearly no exception.

sidewalk painting of purple, red, and white buffalo

All wound up: mechanique’alo

We got in touch with Mr. Raymer to ask about the sudden extinction of his herd. He verified that indeed he was the perpetrator (the buffalos were loosely based on series of photographs by Eadweard Muybridge taken in late 19th century), planning to make them last, Raymer painted the buffalos in Montana Gold spray paint, and that a neighbor filed an official complaint about the sidewalk paintings. The city’s Graffiti Task Force was called-in and was therefore obligated to power wash them away. (Apparently the city would not have acted but for the formal complaint.) Raymer would like to re-paint his sidewalks with a new to-be-decided theme at some point in the future, but this time he’ll go through official channels to do so.

Sequence of a buffalo (American bison) galloping. Photos taken by Eadweard Muybridge (died 1904), first published in 1887 at Philadelphia (Animal Locomotion).

Eadweard Muybridge’s photographic sequence of a buffalo (American bison) galloping, 1887

The whole thing raises an interesting series of questions. Sidewalks are this curious blend of public and private space and the letter of the law doesn’t necessarily add up logically. Technically, one’s sidewalks are part of the property lot and the homeowner (not the city) is legally responsible for the care and maintenance, including weed, snow, and ice removal, patching and replacing cracked concrete, etc. Sidewalks are undeniably public thoroughfares that everyone uses and are absolutely essential to a healthy urban environment. They also offer great opportunities for expression.

Shouldn’t Raymer (or anyone else) be allowed to decorate his own property–that he’s legally responsible for maintaining–in a way he chooses? Why is he allowed to paint the public-facing fence, but not the adjacent sidewalk, which is inches away and just as visible? If the same neighbors objected to his wall murals, would the city be in power to act on those complaints? And if one is painting his or her own property, does it really count as graffiti?

sidewalk painting of purple and white buffalos

Then: corner buffalo (and friend)

faded outline of a buffalo painted on sidewalk, Pittsburgh, PA

Now: the same corner with the last traces of the once-proud herd of Lawrenceville’s sidewalk buffalo

The Orbit does not pretend to have answers to these questions, nor do we want to vilify the residents who objected to the paintings. That said, this hardcore all-seasons blogging pedestrian would like to see the neighbors of Lawrenceville put that same keep-the-sidewalks-clean enthusiasm put into clearing the inevitable mini glaciers of snow and ice that will arrive any day now.

Maybe down on 35th Street they don’t have this problem, but just a few blocks away I sure do! Every year I slip on un-shoveled winter sidewalks. Most years there is at least one ugly fall that ends with a bent knee, a twisted ankle, or a very literal pain in the ass. These buffalos may look threatening, and they may not be Raymer’s neighbors’ idea of art, but it’s hard to imagine they were really offending anyone. It’s the coming ice age that may do us all in.

To see more of Jeremy Raymer’s work, check him out on Instagram @jeremyMraymer.

6 thoughts on “An Orbit Obit: Where the Buffalo Roamed

  1. Paul Schifino says:

    Yes… Lascaux N’at. I am ever amazed about what offend individuals.

    I am bracing myself just as you are for the neighborhood sidewalk neglect. It might be time to attach a pillow to your butt… snow is coming.


  2. davidc5033 says:

    I once went to a three ring circus. One ring featured some buffalo jumping through a hoop. This seemed like the most absurd, ridiculous thing I’d ever seen but since I’ve loved anything buffalo. Sorry about your ass.


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