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Eagles start conversations

BISMARCK (UTN) - An interesting thing happened when some college students were racing to finish work on their latest public art sculpture in Bismarck. People stopped to talk with them. They asked questions and chatted.

      To most that doesn't seem unusual, but a good many American Indians aren't used to having pleasant conversations with mainstream people. Silence is more the rule.

Eagle sculpture
A mother eagle with her two chicks is one of the artistic elements in the public sculpture "Gathering Of Visions", done by United Tribes Technical College art students, set to be dedicated November 18 in Bismarck's Sertoma Park. United Tribes News photo.

      That changed in early fall when students from United Tribes Technical College began to install four life-sized eagle sculptures in a city park. It took much of the summer to build the eagles at the college and almost two months of work outdoors positioning them at the cardinal points of a 40 foot diameter medicine wheel.

      "That time out in the public eye, doing the work, is really what started the conversations," said Wayne Pruse, Director of UTTC's Art-Art Marketing Program. "Communication is a by-product of public art. Down through the ages pictures and made objects have had the ability to bring people of different cultures together - even if they fear art or even fear each other."

      Whether it was the universality of the eagles as art or the tendency of North Dakotan's to be nosey and nice, it worked.

      "We had between 15 and 25 people a day stop and talk to us," said LaRae Laundreaux, a student who installed most of 36,000 one-inch ceramic tiles in the center of the display. "They asked where we were from, what the sculptures meant and how we came to be doing it. Lots of them were interested in the Medicine Wheel design."

      Known as "Gathering Of Visions," the eagles project is the second in a multi-year series of public art sculptures commissioned by the Bismarck Park Board. A dedication program is scheduled for November 18.

      The collaboration between park board and staff and the tribal college artists was recently hailed during a city town hall meeting as a model for accepting and working with diversity as a community asset.

      "We're so honored to be working with the staff and students of United Tribes," said Steve Neu, Director of Bismarck Parks and Recreation District. "It's a great example of how to bring people together."

      While the installation was in full swing, some people who live in the Sertoma Park neighborhood, where the sculpture stands, warmed to the artists by bringing treats and water.

      "They were our frequent visitors," said Laundreaux. "They brought other people to see it. A lady from the neighborhood, who became a friend, even helped lay tiles one day. They got to know my mother, who was a volunteer. And they kept an eye on the site when we left in the evenings."

      In addition to Laundreaux (Cheyenne River), five other United Tribes Art-Art Marketing students worked on the project: Lyman Vivier (Standing Rock), Brandon McDonald (Washoe Tribe of Nevada & California), Steven White Mountain (Standing Rock), Christine Ross (Three Affiliated) and David Black Cloud (Standing Rock).

      Although Laundreaux was interviewed by the local newspaper and a local TV station, she was more comfortable talking to ordinary people.

      "It was nice to meet all the people who came by on the walking path," said Laundreaux. "I had more conversations than I would have with non-natives. I spend most of my time around my family."

      A dedication program for "Gathering Of Visions" is set for Friday, November 18 at 1:30 p.m. in Bismarck's Sertoma Park near the entrance to Dakota Zoo. The public is invited. Parking is available adjacent to the new sculpture. In case of inclement weather, the program will take place in the Sertoma Leadership building near the amusement park. Refreshments will be served.


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