BILLINGS — A powerful piece of indigenous art is on display in Washington, D.C., but it's making its way back to Montana for visitors to view at Tippet Rise Art Center near Fishtail.
The beautiful mountain setting in the Beartooth Mountains near Fishtail was land the Crow people once called home, so it's fitting the area will soon be home to an art piece with historical significance to the Crow people.
“The piece is called ‘The Soil You See.’ It's really exciting for us,” says Peter Hinmon, co-director of Tippet Rise Art Center. “Even more so, it's truly an honor and quite humbling to have this sculpture coming to Tippet Rise.”
The piece was commissioned by Apsaalooke artist Wendy Red Star, niece of famous artist Kevin Red Star, as part of an exhibition on display at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It depicts a very important piece of untold American history.
“‘The Soil You See’ is a large thumbprint. It's my thumbprint coming out of a glass boulder,” says Wendy Red Star.
Throughout Crow history, dating back to the 1800s, Native American leaders would often sign treaties with an x, a symbol or a thumbprint.
“I think what people don’t really realize is that there is a really deep and rich history, a long history of native leaders coming to Washington, D.C. to sit with U.S. presidents and negotiate on behalf of their communities,” says Red Star.
The names of Apsaalooke chiefs are inscribed on the lines of Red Star’s thumbprint in a font created from her handwriting. There's also a quote from Curly, a Crow scout during The Battle of the Little Bighorn, who traveled to D.C. in the early 1900s to defend Crow land from non-native settlers.
“Crow land is basically our ancestors,” says Red Star, paraphrasing Curly. “Several layers are the blood and dust of our ancestors, and if you want to find nature's earth, you’ll have to dig down really far before you can find it because the top portion is Crow.”
The sculpture is on display in D.C. on Signer’s Island, next to a memorial dedicated to the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Red Star is one of six artists the nonprofit Monument Lab invited to commission this temporary exhibit. Its next and permanent stop: Tippet Rise Art Center, where you can view it starting in 2024.
“We intend to put it in a location where probably every visitor will see it, which isn’t necessarily the case with the way people move through Tippet Rise,” says Hinmon.
Tippet Rise has about 15 miles of trail and nearly 15 large outdoor art installations scattered throughout the 12,500-acre property. Many people bike, walk, or reserve a shuttle tour and soon, they’ll be able to see ‘The Soil You See,’ an 8-by-6-by-3 foot sculpture made of glass and granite, weighing in at 6,000 pounds.
“The work I think will help inform people of more of the history of the land at Tippet Rise,” says Hinmon.
That land near Fishtail was on the second Crow Agency, the first being near Livingston and the current at its location today near Hardin, where the Apsaalooke people were eventually moved.
‘The Soil You See’ is on display in D.C. through Sept. 18.