Congratulations to M.A. in Art History recipient Willow Gritzmaker G ’22 for being awarded the Laurinda Dixon Prize for best graduate student symposium paper. The title of Gritzmaker’s winning paper is: “Phantom Indians on Unceded Land: Cyrus Dallin’s A Signal of Peace and Chicago’s Contested Monuments.”
Willow’s paper offers an analysis of Cyrus Dallin’s equestrian bronze A Signal of Peace (1890), which is part of the city of Chicago’s public art collection—a collection that also includes several other stereotypical depictions of Indigenous people.
As Willow explains, “The statue, originally dedicated as a memorial, has been a permanent fixture in the city’s largest lakefront park ever since it was exhibited at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. This stereotypical ‘Indian,’ wearing a feathered warbonnet and sitting astride a horse, elides the fraught histories of the land on which it stands. The figure of a decontextualized Plains warrior is incongruous with the appearances and histories of the Potawatomi who were a predominant group in the area now called Chicago prior to the signing of the treaty. Moreover, the lakefront on which it stands consists largely of landfill created in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that was not included in the 1833 Treaty of Chicago between the U.S. government and the Ojibwe, Ottawa, and Potawatomi. Dallin’s statue thus functions as a visual ghost born from settler colonial ideas of Indigenous people as vanishing or vanished, thwarting public recognition of real Indigenous peoples’ relationships to Chicago in the past, present, and future. This essay interprets A Signal of Peace as a form of detrimental haunting. From the late nineteenth century to the present, Dallin’s statue obscures local history, discourages awareness of ongoing claims to the lakefront made by the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi, and reinforces false narratives of Indigenous absence in the city today. Through its reliance on reductive visual clichés and its public dedication as a memorial on unceded land, A Signal of Peace contributes to a narrative of spectral Indigeneity confined to the distant past. Contemporary Indigenous artists have responded to and resisted this spectralization through the creation of artworks that assert Indigenous presence in the city and question the validity of settler-colonial claims to the lakefront.”
About the Laurinda Dixon Prize:
This award is named in honor of Laurinda S. Dixon, Professor Emerita of Art History at Syracuse University. Professor Dixon taught in the Department of Art and Music Histories for thirty-five years, serving as Director of Graduate Studies for many of them. Professor Dixon believed deeply in engaging students through conversation and humor. Her teaching excellence was recognized when she was named "William P. Tolley Distinguished Teaching Professor" (2003 to 2005), the most prestigious teaching honor awarded by the University. She is also an innovative and renowned scholar. Her scholarly specialty is the relationship of art and science before the Enlightenment, and she lectures widely on the subject at universities and museums throughout the world.