Water fountain blends North and Central American Indian imagery

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Ancient Traders Market Plaza, on Franklin Avenue, is one of 10 Minneapolis sites to get a drinking fountain sculpture this fall as part of the city’s Artist-Designed Public Drinking Fountains project.
Guatemalan artist Peter Morales will install “Water Totem”, a 72’’ granite sculpture of a crow sitting on a turtle, which blends Native American and Central American imagery.

Coinciding with the city’s 150th anniversary, a total of 10 drinking fountains will be installed to “to celebrate the role water has played in Minneapolis history and to foster a commitment to honoring and protecting water as fundamental to all life,” according to the city’s website.

Mary Altman, the city’s Public Arts Administrator, said the Ancient Traders Market Plaza was an ideal site because it is away from the sidewalk, has an open area, and already contains other pieces of public art. Great Neighborhoods, which runs Ancient Traders Gallery, will maintain the fountain, and shut off the water during the winter months.

The project, funded by the Minneapolis Arts Commission with a budget of $50,000, began with In the Heart of the Beast Theatre’s “Invigorate the Common Well”, an initiative with a similar goal to show thanks to local water resources, according to the theatre’s website.

Morales said that after being selected as one of the participating artists, he collaborated with Ancient Traders’ Curator Heid Erdrich (Ojibwe) to come up with a design that would blend Central American and local Native American symbolism. “I asked to meet with her and talk to her about ideas that would work well. And she was very helpful,” Morales said.

“There are some similarities in some of the creation stories,” Morales said of his and Erdrich’s decision to combine the two cultures, adding that they have common water themes. In Mesoamerican tradition, the creation story begins with water, out of which a Caiman, an alligator-like animal common in Guatemala, emerges to create land. Together, Erdrich and Morales decided that a Turtle could be used as a water-based animal native to Minnesota. Erdrich said she liked the idea of using Totem symbolism, but “we specifically didn’t want it to be a totem pole- that’s not from this area,” she said.

In “Water Totem,” Morales uses the Turtle, a local animal, to replace the Caiman. In his version, the Turtle emerges from the water to create Turtle Island. In Morales’s sculpture, a crow sits ominously on top of the turtle, drawing from the Native American trickster archetype. “He’s going to mess with you if you’re not behaving yourself,” Morales said. “You have to be respectful, and careful with resources.”