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Metal arch outside CAD tells story of native Dakota land

A metal arch looms over the pathway leading up to the Center for Art and Dance (CAD). Last spring, studio major Kris Swanson ’18 created the art sculpture, titled “Threshold,” for his senior exhibition.

“Threshold,” located on the zigzag path on the parking lot side of CAD, is about ten feet wide and 12 feet tall. The large scale of the archway is intentional and meant to bring attention to the story behind it.

According to Swanson’s artist statement, which is etched into the sign on the ground beside the sculpture, “Threshold” is meant to start a conversation about the Dakota people who were among original inhabitants of southern Minnesota.

“The piece is intended to ignite discussion. It doesn’t claim to tell a story but rather reminds us of a story,” Swanson wrote in his artist statement.

“Threshold” acts as a reminder to acknowledge the native peoples who originally lived in the region. According to a Manitou Messenger article written by Avery Ellfeldt ’19, the Wahpekute, a Mdewankaton Band of the Dakota, were seasonal travelers through the area which is now considered Northfield.

“‘Threshold’ is an invitation, an entrance into conversation. We are standing on Dakota land. Many people are not aware, or if they are, they likely don’t think about it. ‘Threshold’ seeks to stir us from that sedation,” Swanson said in an email to the Manitou Messenger.

The arch resembles the gateways into the mystical worlds of books and movies. Although crafted completely in metal, the arch appears to be formed entirely by wooden branches, as if two trees sprouted out of the ground and arched to meet in the middle. The branches offshoot in all directions, bending and forming around the arch’s sturdy metal base. Crafted among the twigs, almost hugging the metal base, are animals and plants. Bass fish, formed out of copper and wood, seem to swim through the branches and a wiry metal bird’s nest sits perched near the top.

“The imagery of plants and animals that reside in the work are there to lay a path of entry,” Swanson wrote. “There are species we know and associate with this space, species that are native to this area. They can serve as a reminder of what it means to live on this land.”

Jane Becker Nelson curated the art show last spring and, prompted by the community’s enthusiasm for the piece, arranged to have it remain for another year.

You can see the arch walking past CAD, rusted yet standing tall as a tragically beautiful reminder of this land’s history.

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