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UWSP picks Native artist for memorial project

Metro Wire Staff

A member of the Ho-Chunk Nation has been selected as the artist who will create an outdoor memorial to Native Americans buried on campus grounds before the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point was established.

The school this week announced that Christopher Sweet, a contemporary artist, has been commissioned for the Native American burial ground memorial. His project is a mural that will be painted on a free-standing wooden canvas near the Communication Arts Center and south of Dreyfus University Center.

The mural will feature images and words to represent the Ho-Chunk, Potawatomi, Ojibwe, and Menominee tribes honored in the “Ancestors Buried Below Us” memorial, the school said in a news release.

A monochromatic color scheme will capture the essence of ancestors with raised hands to symbolize lifting up future generations, Sweet said in the news release. The mural will include a poem written by his cousin Denise Sweet, former Wisconsin poet laureate.

“I wanted to focus on our ancestors’ resilience and the supportive foundation they have provided to guide those here today,” Sweet wrote in his proposal. “I want my mural to be uplifting and inspire current and future generations of our Indigenous students to thrive.”

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.

Sweet will begin the 24- by 32-foot mural this month in his Baraboo studio. It will be installed in October.

Sweet, Ho-Chunk/White Earth Ojibwe, was born in Wisconsin and lives in the Wisconsin Dells area. He studied at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M., and has exhibited work in solo and multi-artist shows. His commissioned works have been featured in printed materials and hung in corporate spaces, educational institutions, medical facilities, and private collections throughout Wisconsin and the United States.

In 2021, he was one of several artists commissioned for a mural initiative, “Paint the County.” The mural is located in Amherst, Wis.

The art memorial is one of several steps UW-Stevens Point is taking to educate people on and off campus about the tragedy that led to the burial of Native Americans. A temporary marker recognizes Native ancestors who died during a scarlet fever epidemic in the 1860s. In addition, a 12-credit Native American and Indigenous Studies certificate program will begin this fall.