A husband’s dream realized
Ricing canoe is installed in the Cultural Commons
By Kris Leonhardt
STEVENS POINT – When Mike Hoffman – Ci:hkwa:nahkwat – a Menominee and Ottawa descendant and resident of Stevens Point set out in 2015 to tell the true story about Pasi:pahki:hnen (Stevens Point) and its Menominee ricing grounds, little could prepare his wife for the emotions she would experience upon the installation of the testament in the Cultural Commons
After Mike’s death from lung cancer, his wife Karen Ann stepped forward to help secure the remaining funds needed and ensured that Mike’s dream developed along the way.
On May 30-31, that dream was realized as the massive structure took its place among other symbols of the community’s heritage in a place dedicated to provide a lasting legacy.
“This has been the most painfully, exquisitely beautiful experience since we laid Mike’s ashes in the sugar bush,” Karen Ann said “I have felt the love and care of more human beings during this process than I even knew existed on this earth. It has been a beautiful pain.”
Creators John McDonald, Jr. and Margy Kettle, of JMC Specialties; Karen Ann; and about a half dozen family members and friends worked through the weekend to install the metal art sculpture that would bring the historic ricing community to life.
The installation is a sound, as well as a symbolic structure.
The pieces have been welded in place on posts with barbed fins to prevent removal. Anything in contact with the ground is made of stainless.
As the sun moves across the sky, the colors on the canoe shift to create a new and unique view of the structure.
The installation is designed to provide as much focus on the ricing action as possible. The group steered away from original plans to plant cattails and other water plantings, which were revised while the structure was in the creation process.
“Once Trish (Mrozek) held those wild rices in her hands, she knew that those were the focus. And as pretty as a posy is, they don’t belong in the middle of this installation,” Karen Ann explained.
From that day, a committee of Karen Ann, Mrozek, and Patrick Perzynski worked on a new direction.
“The rocks are meant to represent the water, and around that, mulch is meant to represent the banks. The idea is that when you rice, you do not rice in the middle of the lake. This gift of life happens toward the shore in the shallows,” Karen added.
“Even the orientation of the poler in the canoe is no mistake. He is ricing toward the shallows.”
“The people in the canoe, even though they are minimalist, we tried to give them as much motion as possible,” McDonald said. “If you look closely, their hips are turned, their shoulders rolled, and they are not straight up and down… if you look close, all of the rice have a slight bend, the leaves as they are twisted have a bend.
“It’s all going to the east, because in the fall, the wind is primarily out of the west and north. They are out here in the morning, I envision, going towards the sunrise, with a gentle breeze behind them as they are poling.”
While installation on the structure has been completed, the group will continue to work on items to enhance the artwork, while not obstructing its message.
“Limited plantings, restricted to only Wisconsin native flora, will commence over the late Spring through Fall. Plants will be selected based on height, soil, sun and rain conditions. Nothing will be planted within the footprint of the sculpture, its rock waterbed or its mulch ‘banks.’ Plantings will be used as a frame for the sculpture the way a frame is meant to enhance and not obscure artwork on one’s wall,” added Karen Ann.
“Along the rock wall, Trish and I will be working with John and Margy to develop some unique metal solar art lights that will lend a glow to the area.”
Editor’s Note: The Cultural Commons of Portage County, Inc. recently released that a $4,080 grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board was used to help partially fund the creation of the metal sculpture honoring the Menominee.