“From These Hands” exhibit provides insight into Dakota culture and history

Tori Smith – Staff Writer

It’s getting to be that time of year again. The air is warmer, the sun is staying out longer, but for many Gusties this means the workload is about to get much heavier.
As midterms approach, many students are finding school to be much more stressful than before. There are more tests to study for, essays to write, projects to complete and assignments to turn in on time.
This is why it’s so important for students to find easy ways to relieve stress. Luckily, Gustavus provides an excellent way to do just that.
The Hillstrom Museum of Art, located in the lower level of Jackson Campus Center, is a free gallery where students are encouraged to visit and explore featured exhibitions.
The exhibition currently on display in the gallery is “From These Hands: Fiber Art” and Poetry by Gwen Westerman.
The exhibit features the work of Dakota artist, poet and scholar Gwen Westerman, a faculty member of the English department at Minnesota State University, Mankato (MSU).
“My art is grounded in Dakota culture, history, oral tradition and language recovery—and the continuation of our story,” Westerman wrote in her artist statement.
The gallery proudly displays her work which includes a variety of poems and quilts, many of which come from permanent collections in The Heritage Center of Red Cloud Indian School in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, the University Art Galleries at the University of South Dakota and the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul.
Dakota culture and history have deep ties to St. Peter as this city was the site of the Traverse des Sioux treaty of 1851. This agreement between the Dakota and the U.S. government transferred ownership of 35 million acres of land at 12 cents an acre to be paid for over time by the U.S. government, according to the Minnesota Historical Society.
The breaking of this treaty by the U.S. government, along with many others, led to the 1862 U.S.-Dakota War which ended in the largest mass execution in U.S. history of 38 Dakota men in Mankato.
“It’s important that Gustavus be aware of the history of the place where we are located,” Director of Hillstrom Museum Don Myers said.
Westerman’s piece Caske’s Pardon is inspired by the event that took place in Mankato 159 years ago. In 2012, there was a call for a federal pardon for Caske, one of the men executed who hadn’t committed a crime. Westerman’s piece turns this on its head, portraying Caske calling for a pardon on those who wrongly executed him.
Another piece entitled Ded Uŋk’uŋpi/We Are Here portrays the spirits of the 38 Dakota men who were hanged after the U.S.-Dakota War. The piece is meant to highlight their bravery as “fathers, sons, brothers, uncles, and grandfathers who fought to protect their homeland and their people,” accord ing to the artwork’s summary.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the museum is only open to on-campus students/faculty and invited guests. In response to this, the museum has started using a videographer to create virtual “walk-throughs” of the gallery to be linked on the Hillstrom website as well as a PDF form of the exhibit brochure.
Additionally, Westerman will be visiting the museum this weekend to participate in a recorded gallery talk about her work which will also appear on the Museum website. In the talk, she will be referencing specific objects and poems in the exhibit to provide more insight into her outstanding work.
For students needing a break from their studies, the “From These Hands” exhibit is an excellent way to relax and enjoy some beautiful and insightful artwork.
The museum is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. and weekends from 1 p.m.-5 p.m. Off-campus art-lovers can email hillstrom@gustavus.edu to set up an appointment as an invited guest to view the gallery in person.

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