A child and an elder rest in the bend of a tree. Each in the lap of one who came before.
They gaze up at the moon, a turtle and an otter swimming in the night sky, as vines of cranberries and blueberries circle around them.
“Grandma’s Lap,” a new mural unveiled Tuesday at the Mount Royal Public Library, was created for this specific space by Ojibwe artist and Heart Berry CEO Sarah Agaton Howes. “Libraries are a great equalizer,” said the Cloquet woman. “They give everybody access to stories and how powerful stories are.”
"Grandma's Lap" shows the Indigenous creation story, while depicting the sacred act of generational sharing. And, works like this are a type of land acknowledgement, she said.
“When you put our art somewhere, that says that not only were we here, but we are still here, and more than that, we’re thriving communities full of richness, full of stories,” she added.
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“Native people are going into these libraries. I want them to be able to see us, but also be their contemporary self,” Agaton Howes said.
The mural is sponsored by the Arrowhead Library System — also responsible for the painted book columns outside the downtown location — with funding from the Minnesota’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and Duluth Public Arts Commission.
"We’ve had a mission to ensure our community is represented on the library walls, and the Duluth Public Library’s Diversity in Action group chose Howes from a pool of local artists," said Lori Crocker, Duluth Public Library Branch coordinator. “Sarah had the same sort of vision that aligned with our goals and representing the Anishinaabe in a way that’s very present today."
The Duluth Public Arts Commission, which sponsors art such as the utility box wraps around town, matched Arrowhead Library System funding for the mural.
Christina Woods, president of the Duluth Public Art Commission and executive director of the Duluth Art Institute, said there’s very little art representing the Anishinaabe in the community, and the commission saw this as a strong effort to support public art and make space for an absent narrative in Duluth, that of the Anishinaabe.
“Throughout much of art history, native people have been taken advantage of both by being represented as very stoic and also represented as just only part of a landscape, so Sarah’s mural disrupts that historical practice of minimizing and delegitimizing Indigenous people as human beings,” Woods said.
The impact of this will help Duluth neighbors see more of who the Anishinaabe are in 2021, as well as the traditional stories and cultural beliefs, Woods added.
Agaton Howes’ other murals are installed in a McGregor school, and outside St. Paul’s Springboard for the Arts building. This is her second recent mural, after the August installation of “The Great Rice Race” in the Duluth Children’s Museum.
“Grandma’s Lap” follows mural paintings by Duluth Ojibwe painter Carl Gawboy in the Superior Public Library.
“It’s cool to be able to follow up in his footsteps,” Agaton Howes said.