Reflecting the Sublime revives a lost museum exhibition which stands at the nexus of wildlife history, art, and conservation: William Hornaday’s American Bison Group. This historic tableau of six full-mounted wild bison–an early version of the familiar diorama–was collected in 1886 in what is now eastern Montana, and prepared by Chief Taxidermist Hornaday for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in 1887-88. The book is a product of the author’s research over the past 25 years, revealing the story of the Bison Group, which left the National Museum in the mid-1950s, returning then to its state of origin. The book reviews the specimens’ tenure at the National Museum; their decades in obscurity after the mid-1950s; and their recent restoration as a compelling “habitat” display. In telling the story of the Group’s rebirth, the current book echoes the redemption of this important species today, in an era when bison themselves continue their “renaissance” in numbers and in the public imagination. As we enter a critical new century for the preservation of wildlife and the environment, the venerable bison tableau regains life and meaning as our nation’s first symbol for the conservation of this incomparable wild species–the American bison, or “buffalo.” Arrival of this visually stunning book marks the first time the full story of this forgotten American treasure has been told.

A little-known fact: The American Bison Group of William Temple Hornaday marks a turning point in the rise of visually-compelling naturalistic displays in museums of natural history worldwide. Such displays represent the artistic-scientific efforts of many developed nations to address and to limit the widespread loss of wildlife and their supporting ecosystems. Today’s vivid habitat dioramas trace their beginnings directly to America’s Bison Group, and to Hornaday’s pioneering work 125 years ago.
Reflecting the Sublime: The Rebirth of an American Icon, 2013, by Douglas Coffman
Published by The River & Plains Society, Fort Benton, Montana
Soft Cover in full color / 67 pages / Richly illustrated in black-and-white and full color
Authoritative, yet readable / Appendixes / End Notes & Commentary / Bibliography
Printed in the United States on archival papers / ISBN 978-0-9895988-0-4