When I stepped into the Park Rapids Art Museum I wasn’t expecting anything spectacular. Afterall, it was just a class fieldtrip. I expected a low number of paintings with colorful nature scenes. To be honest, at first glance I was disappointed in the art museum, it was just an old courthouse building. The disappointment was met with worry as I stepped into the main meeting room. The room was full of crazy paintings that made me
uncomfortable and confused. The next room was black and white and fairly normal. But none of the paintings spoke to me. They were all of logs and most of the logs were positioned in the same way. I couldn’t understand the artist. The final room was full of flashing lights. At first I was worried. The flashing lights didn’t go well with my eyes and there were more strange paintings. I knew right away that I wouldn’t be able to stay in there for a long time and got ready to leave. Then I saw it. A modern sort of painting.
The painting was called Bird’s eye view by Mike Raidt. After a week the painting is clear in my mind. If I close my eyes, I can see every detail. Every curve the brush took.
I see a black canvas, cold and dark like a glass of Coke. Then there is grey, blue, and dark brown lightly dusted on top. The canvas is covered in a bunch of cubes and circles. The white, grey, blue, and black ice cubes float along in that black water. They appear to be randomly placed over the canvas. Much like chunks of ice displaced by floating along a river. Giving the painting the look of a kaleidoscope.
The painting echoes the sweet and sorrowful sounds of the birds. In three corners of the canvas they sit. The black bird sits in a silver circle in the top right corner and across from it the white birds sit in blue circles. As if they are looking at the black bird; the odd one out. But it stays on its side of the painting watching back. Then looking down at the city in a summer night. The painting has thick lines scattered around the page most go between the squares. The dirt roads of an older Park Rapids. Blue fleur de lis lie scattered around on the painting. One is white and gold and it sits profoundly in the center.
I think the painting is of northern Minnesota a long time ago. The squares being houses of the french, and the circles being aerial views of tipis. The birds are the people themselves. Two different cultures living together in harmony before everything started to change. A time of peace.
The painting overall tries to avoid what is happening below. The birds realize what is happening. The white birds want land and the black birds have the land. Tensions will heat up soon but so far it has been peaceful. Peaceful because both sides need the peace for now.
The state of Minnesota and the United States tried to get rid of the Native Americans as best as they could. They sent them smallpox blankets and relocated them to unfamiliar areas. It was a money and land grab that has been covered up very well. But the biggest mistake is to think that it ended so long ago. The thing is now the government gives land away to pipelines. It makes me wonder why things went so wrong and when they went so wrong. It clearly happened after the painting’s time because everything is fine and peaceful there.
The land is almost untouched. It’s a peaceful little town of early settlers who are just around to hunt what they need and get by growing crops. A town where everyone is free to travel around and both sides benefit from the other. The settlers give iron tools and in return the Native Americans give advice. The people need each other in that painting and they thrive off of each other.
The trip to the art museum left me with questions and ideas. There has been so much wrong in the past that occasionally it’s hard to see the good. The good gets drowned out. When I walked out of the courtroom I felt guilty, that old courtroom came back to life and made a decision. Sure, the things that happened so long ago weren’t my fault. They weren’t even the fault of my ancestors. Maybe the fault I was feeling was of the ignorance I was taking to now. The thought that everything is fine between us and them, between the white birds and the black birds, but it never really healed.