Sculpture Garden’s “Scaffold” to be dismantled and burned

Sheldon Wolfchild (left) and Cheyanne St. John (second from right) at a press conference Wednesday.

“Scaffold” will come down Friday and travel to Fort Snelling, where it will burn as part of a Native American ceremony.

The new addition to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden evoked emotional protests from Native Americans and others for its representation of the gallows that hanged 38 Dakota men in the aftermath of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.

“This is a critical part of history for our Dakota people, which includes the overt acts of genocide directed at our people — not something to be depicted in the Sculpture Garden next to a giant rooster or a spoon with a cherry,” said Cheyanne St. John, who works in the Lower Sioux Community Tribal Historic Preservation Office.

The Walker institution will become more diverse so something like this doesn’t happen again, said Walker Executive Director Olga Viso. She said they will create a more diverse board and staff, and will hold advisory forums. The Walker will also commission Native artwork for the campus, she said.

The Dakota 38 is one of seven executions embodied in Durant’s sculpture, and he said he included the incident because it remains the largest execution in U.S. history. Durant apologized and said if he could do it over, he never would have included the Mankato story. He’s done historical research, he said, but never personally met with people living with the history for 500 years.

“The work is really primarily for a mainstream audience that’s not aware of these things. … So many people don’t know that history,” he said.

Lack of historical knowledge played a huge role in the installation of “Scaffold,” said Sheldon Wolfchild, a Dakota historian, filmmaker and artist.

Wolfchild said that three years after the Dakota 38 died, officials hanged two more Dakota at a scaffold near Fort Snelling. One of those men is his ancestor, Medicine Bottle. Wolfchild said Medicine Bottle’s neck didn’t break immediately, and he dangled for 10 minutes before he died.

“If you have the courage to understand that feeling, then that is what our people are going through,” he said.

Sheldon Wolfchild
Sheldon Wolfchild

Wolfchild said his people have the country’s highest suicide rate – his reservation recently held a memorial for a 12-year-old girl who strangled herself. He said “Scaffold” is not an image he wants young people to see at a mainstream institution.

“There also has to be a balance when you do a message in art — there has to be positive and negative, not just negative,” he said.

The sculpture’s dismantling will begin Friday at 2 p.m. in a ceremony led by Dakota spiritual leaders and elders. A Native construction company will spend at least four days removing the wood. The date to burn the structure at Fort Snelling is not yet determined.

The mediated resolution came through consultation with Dakota spiritual and traditional elders, representatives of Minnesota’s four federally-recognized tribes, the Park Board, Durant and Walker Art Center.