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Tuesday October 27, 2020
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illustration of a buffalo


A metal mascot on Yost St.

by Anita LeBlanc

From the October, 2020 issue

The Mediterranean-blue, lime-green trimmed house on Yost St. is eye-catching, but what brings drivers and pedestrians alike to a halt is the life-sized metal oxidized bison with a ribbon-like mane, curved short horns, and braided tail in the front yard.

Most erroneously identify the sculpture as a male buffalo. Homeowners Itibere (Itchie) Silveira and Leila Barbosa inform them that it actually represents a female Great Plains bison--specifically, "Ralphie," the mascot of the University of Colorado Boulder's football team.

Passersby aren't the only ones confused about the creature's species--the Colorado football team calls itself the Buffaloes, and alternately refers to Ralphie as a buffalo and a bison on its website. Accompanied by five handlers, a live Ralphie--always a female--has been sprinting around the football field since 1966 to bolster team spirit.

The metal Ralphie arrived in Wolverine territory on a cold, snowy January day in 2018. Silveira, a multimedia artist enamored with metal work, got a call from Steve Sinelli, a longtime friend and fellow estate sale aficionado. "Itchie, you gotta come see this bison!" Sinelli declared breathlessly. "You're gonna love this bison!"

Silveira saw the sculpture as he drove in to the sale site in Pinckney. "I knew it was a beauty," he says. "I'm a welder, so I know how difficult it is to make something like that."

Lots of people were bidding on the bison, so Silveria found John Rokke, who owns Family Treasures Estate Sales with his wife Denise, and told him, "Whatever it is, I'll bid higher."

That clinched the deal. "I paid an $850 bid," he says. "I love it. I just love it!"

The Rokkes were able to tell him

that the homeowner, a University of Colorado Boulder alum, had brought the sculpture from Colorado. But they didn't know the name of the artist who created it, and Silveira is still trying to solve that mystery.

He's since learned his sculpture would fetch $20,000 online, but to him, it's priceless. No matter her value,

...continued below...

Silveira and Barbosa continue to keep their Ralphie in their

front yard--with a security system monitoring her.

They have another mascot sculpture in the backyard, Silveira volunteers--adding, "Leila hates it."

"I don't know what you're talking about. You mean the terrible, ugly, stupid thing?" she deadpans.

"It's beautiful!" exclaims Silveira. "To you, maybe," Barbosa huffs. She put her foot down when her husband suggested moving the piece to the front yard.

Silveira bought the baby-plump, gnome-sized, naked seated creature, with a Mohawk, wide grin, and Mr. Spock ears and eyebrows, at an estate sale in Bloomfield Hills. "People thought it was a Buddha at first," says Barbosa, but a friend identified it as "the Billiken," a good-luck charm created by a Missouri woman more than a century ago. Said to bring luck to those who rub its belly, it was later adopted as a mascot by Saint Louis University.

The couple's connection to their mascot collection is purely artistic. Natives of Brazil, they both went to college in Rio de Janeiro.     (end of article)


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