Mural honors ‘Ancestors Buried Below Us’
By Kris Leonhardt
STEVENS POINT – On March 28, a year of work culminated in the installation of a free-standing wooden canvas near the Communication Arts Center and south of Dreyfus University Center on the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point campus.
The mural was created to honor the members of the indigenous tribes buried on the university grounds.
In February 2021, UW-Stevens Point Chancellor Tom Gibson created a commission — including individuals representing the campus, local nations and community — to work together to acknowledge and honor the native burial grounds located on the campus.
Many of those interred there were victims of the 1860s scarlet fever epidemic.
UW-Stevens Point began seeking proposals in January 2022 for a mural to commemorate the site, and Chris Sweet, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, was chosen.
“Sweet was selected from 11 submissions by a committee that included the Natives representing the Ho-Chunk, Menominee and Potawatomi tribes. Native artists were given preference, as supported by the Federal Indian Art and Craft Act,” an early UW-Stevens Point release stated.
The 24- by 32-foot outdoor mural features words and images that represent Ho-Chunk, Potawatomi, Ojibwe and Menominee tribes honored through the campus’ “Ancestors Buried Below Us” memorial.
Sweet began working on the mural in a Baraboo studio in July.
“My mentor, Melanie Tallmadge Sainz, she is with the Little Eagles Arts Foundation [a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and promoting American Indian art] and she has a studio outside of Baraboo called Maa Wakacak Art Studio. That is where I created it, at that studio. It’s on the old Badger Ammunition facility outside of Baraboo. Ho-Chunk has land out there,” Sweet explained.
“Each day that I went into the studio (and) before I did any kind of work, I would light some sage, burn some sage and pray to the creator and talk to the ancestors, and I would ask them to help guide my hands in creating this imagery. And I felt like a lot of it was created by their presence; so, they kind of guided me through what you’re seeing now.”
The mural was created in a monochromatic color scheme, as Sweet worked to capture the essence of the native ancestors with raised hands to symbolize lifting up future generations.
Sweet added that he was really happy to see it come to fruition and be a part of telling the story of his ancestors.
“It’s exciting, as this is the first time I’ve actually seen it all together on the wall,” he stated during the installation.
“It’s kind of just been a real honor for me to honor our ancestors, our native ancestors, so I hope I did my ancestors proud and all my relatives.”