Class Project Turns into Public Sculpture
Photo by Susan Kasten
The steel sculpture, an artistic representation of a Native American dwelling, is located at Nature at the Confluence, an environmental center in Illinois less than two miles from campus.
The idea came about in 2018, when Ezra Rogers’19, Michael Spencer’18, and Jake Wallace’18 proposed the sculpture as a class project. Their assignment for a class called “Contemporary Art in an Age of Global Warming” was to devise a plan for public art at the Confluence—then pitch it as if it were real.
Professor of Art History Jo Ortel, who created and taught the course, explains that the assignment was tied to theories about sustainability that emphasize the importance of honoring and respecting local history. Rogers, Spencer, and Wallace were drawn into the location’s history as a Native American village after Therese Oldenburg, executive director of the Confluence, spoke to the class. “The further we dug into the research, the more we didn’t understand why that history wasn’t being highlighted,” says Rogers. “That’s what drove us to pursue the project.”
The land where the Rock River and Turtle Creek converge was first a large Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) settlement called Ke-Chunk—Turtle Village in English—which thrived until the early 1830s. Later, the area was degraded by unregulated dumping, but after restoration, the Confluence includes a prairie, hiking trails, and pollinator gardens.
Professor Ortel, a friend of Lowe’s and author of a 2004 book about his art, suggested her students consider collaborating with him to give their project an authentic voice. Rogers says when they spoke to Lowe about it, “he lit up at the idea” and agreed to take on the project.
In an almost imperceptible shift, the class assignment evolved into a viable project.
Dedicated in September 2019, “Ke-Chunk Ciporoke” is now a visible reminder of the area’s original inhabitants and the continued vitality of the Ho-Chunk people. It also serves as a tangible tribute to Lowe. The artist, whose fruitful relationship with Beloit included many class visits and exhibits in the Wright Museum of Art, died in March 2019 after a battle with cancer, shortly after he completed the design.