By Jeff Wagner

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Artwork is always up for interpretation no matter the shape, size or form.

But the piece that once stood in a now empty patch of grass at the sculpture garden at the Walker Art Center served as nothing more than a painful reminder of the ancestors Tom LaBlanc lost in a gruesome way.

“I was shocked that it ever appeared,” LaBlanc said.

He’s talking about “Scaffold,” a controversial wooden structure that was set to make its debut in the sculpture garden.  It was partially inspired by the gallows used to hang 38 Dakota tribe members in 1862 in Mankato. LaBlanc had each of their names stitched onto the sleeve of a shirt he was wearing. “1862 is not that long ago. (In) human terms 100 years it’s kind of long, but in the term of life 100 years is nothing.”

Related: Artist Behind Walker’s ‘Scaffold’ Offers ‘Deepest Apologies’ For ‘Thoughtlessness’

Crystal Norcross, a Dakota tribe member, was one of the many who protested Scaffold for several days before it was removed.

“Every time I see this place, this area, I think of that gallow,” she said while standing in the spot where Scaffold once stood. “I see it, I see the huge structure in my mind.”

While it might never be removed from her memory, it will be forever removed from sight.

Elder tribe members decided the tens of thousands of pounds of wood will be buried on private land in an undisclosed location.

“It won’t be memorialized or anything. It’s kind of a positive move on a negative thing,” said LaBlanc. “We gotta heal.”

There’s no timeline on how long healing might take.

The only guarantee Norcross and LaBlanc did have was making sure this type of controversy won’t happen again.

“It’s like Indians are supposed to be invisible. I want to tell everybody we are alive and we are gonna speak up, and we are gonna correct this stuff,” he said.

Both Norcross and LaBlanc said they and many more tribe members left in the dark on the decision to bury structure, but ultimately are content the elders’ decision.

They also hope the Walker Art Center will better communicate with tribe members in the future if they contemplate displaying Native American artwork. WCCO reached out the Walker Art Center for comment on the development but didn’t hear back.

Jeff Wagner