Vandalized North Dakota sculpture hurts college art program

By Kay Kemmet
Bismarck, North Dakota (AP) June 2010

The broken pieces of the Rising Eagle sculpture are finally back together, almost a year after vandals reduced the American Indian art to rubble last July.

Just north of the Pioneer Park sand volleyball courts, the Rising Eagle seating area is fixed but the space for the sculpture is bare. The sculpture, created by United Tribes Technical College students, will be restored within the next couple of weeks.

“It is scary when you think that someone would want to do something like that,” said Paul Quist, president of the Bismarck Park Board, about the vandalism.

Heska, a former student of UTTC, approached the Bismarck Parks and Recreation District about reconstructing the art and has been a staple in the UTTC maintenance shop working to recreate Rising Eagle since August.

“I think it’s important that someone step up and try to rectify a wrong,” Heska said.

Heska, of the Standing Rock Reservation, prefers to be called by his American Indian name rather than Steven White Mountain.

“It’s important to me that I’m known by Heska,” he said.

When Heska received the sculpture, it was in trash bags. He had to reconstruct 45 percent and piece together the rest. During that time, the sculpture collapsed twice during the reconstruction and he almost gave up.

“It’s been a challenge; a lot of prayers went into it,” Heska said.

By reinforcing the sculpture with metal, it now stands tall and will be completely painted, Heska said. However, he isn’t certain of the exact date the sculpture will be returned to Pioneer Park.

“I believe this time it is going to last. I think anyone who is going to consider vandalizing it is going to hurt themselves,” Heska said.

As an art and art marketing and construction technology major, Heska proposed and constructed the eagle sculptures in front of Dakota Zoo with artist David Black Cloud. But he was not involved in the construction of Rising Eagle with Black Cloud.

“I wanted to show the community that someone was willing to step up and take that responsibility,” Heska said.

The cost of reconstruction falls under the Parks and Recreation insurance policy, but the $2,500 deductible will come out of the taxpayers’ pockets.

“We had to come back and fix something that was done for no logical reason,” Quist said.

After repeated acts of vandalism toward the five student-created sculptures, UTTC chose to discontinue repairs.

“They (the sculptures) all have gotten something happen to them; they have gotten beaten up every year,” said Wayne Pruse, director of the UTTC art department.

Each summer, Pruse and his team of students would take time away from the project they were working on to repair the other sculptures.

“We just got tired of every year we were fixing them and nothing was being done to protect them,” Pruse said.

During the construction of Rising Eagle in Pioneer Park, the sculpture was vandalized with graffiti and small holes. The crew had to repaint and fix the damage.

“We were able to fix it in a couple of weeks,” Pruse said. “There were small holes in the eagle; it was mostly just graffiti. It was mostly repainting we had to do.”

There also was damage done to Reflections, a sculpture further south on the Pioneer Park walking path, the night before Rising Eagle was dedicated.

After repairing Rising Eagle once and working 40 hours a week on top of summer classes to construct and repair other sculptures, the students who originally built the multicolored eagle sculpture were too upset to fix the work.

The students have now graduated and most do not live in the area, making it nearly impossible for them to recreate their work.

The severity of the destruction and vandalism done to other American Indian sculptures created by the students of UTTC has raised questions about the motivation behind the vandalism.

“They did it because racism was involved,” Pruse said. “I’m leaning that way now, after seeing what happened. I was an idealist for a while, thinking that we made a difference in the community because we had so much support.”

With the racial slurs written on the walls of the sculpture, Heska also believes there was racial motivation.

But without the vandal in hand, his or her motivation may never be known.

“Maybe they were doing it just because they could,” Quist speculated. “It isn’t just a crime against the students who built it, it is a crime against Bismarck.”

After the destruction of Rising Eagle, there also was some debate about whether the material used was sturdy enough. Pruse said it is a sound material and is used commonly to create strong sculptures.

The point of using the material was to save money and comply with the Parks and Recreation budget.

“The whole object of using what we did, as an illustration not only to the students but to Bismarck, (was) that anyone can afford public art,” Pruse said. “Where there is a will, there is a way.”

After the latest sculpture was dedicated in Sertoma Park, there was evidence of vandalism within a few days.

“Within the first week, there are marks where they tried to get the bolts out,” Pruse said.

Pruse said that the materials should not be called into question, but rather the audience.

“The security needs to be better,” Pruse said. “There are damages on all of them. As long as it is watched and taken care of, they will last a long, long time.”

Quist hopes something as simple as better lighting in the park will prevent vandals from attacking the art.

In the long run, Pruse said, he does not regret the project because it gave valuable experience to his art students.

“The students that were part of it don’t regret it,” Pruse said. “It was an amazing experience.”

“It is a legacy for the student,” Quist said. “It is actually a really good opportunity for the students and it looks really good when they are looking for jobs.”

For Heska, who now owns his own construction business, AMND Construction, the experience of working on three sculptures, including Rising Eagle, has given him resume-building experience. Heska is an example of why the UTTC art department tries to involve students in the community.

“It was obvious for us as a department, in order for these students to be successful, they have to get involved in the community,” Pruse said.

While the UTTC art partnership with Parks and Recreation ended with vandalism, it was a worthy project overall for Pruse and the students. It created a bridge connecting UTTC to the community and helped them to be more recognized as a local college.

“It went for five years, it didn’t have a good ending, but the community seemed to appreciate it as a whole,” Pruse said.




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