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Caretaker Woman" to watch over Mississippi Headwaters at Itasca State Park (2005-08-25)

image of new scuplture dedicated to Mary Gibbs. more information on the new Mary Gibbs Center.

On Saturday, Sept. 10, as the public celebrates the dedication of the Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwaters Center at Itasca State Park, a special visitor will take up permanent residence along the pathway that leads to the river's headwaters.

The new resident is a bronze sculpture by Minnesota artist Jeff Savage, titled Heartwaters-Caretaker Woman. Savage explains that in Anishinabe (Ojibwe) culture it is believed that women are the caretakers of the water.

"The responsibility to keep this precious resource pristine and renewable for all future generations is considered sacred work that deserves respect," said Savage.

In his sculpture, a woman is leaning over, releasing a clutch of small turtles from a basket. According to the artist, this act represents a renewing of life, renewing of the seasons and a continuation of the waters of life. Her flowing hair is like that of flowing water. The turtles are strong water symbols that represent the universal cycles of life in Anishinabe belief.

"The turtle's round shell represents the earth, moon, sun and seasonal cycles," said Savage. "The legs of the turtle point in the four compass directions. The head points up to honor Grandfather Sun and his tail points down towards Mother Earth. Turtles show us all directions of life-they live in the water, walk on land and breath air. Turtles are a strong symbol of the importance of this site, located here at the headwaters of the Mississippi, the heartwaters of this nation."

Visitors are encouraged to "please touch" the sculpture. "Because the sculpture is made of bronze, the lustre of the metal is enhanced through touch," said Savage. "I am sure that children, especially, will want to 'explore' the clutch of turtles she is releasing from her basket."

The art piece, Heartwaters-Caretaker Woman, was commissioned through Minnesota Percent for Art in Public Places, a program sponsored by the Minnesota State Arts Board and the Department of Administration, with support for this project from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The program was established by legislation in 1984 to encourage the creation of artwork for shared public spaces. The law allows that certain state building projects may use a portion of their budgets to purchase or commission original artwork.

The selection of art for this project was done by a committee of representatives from the Department of Natural Resources and art professionals who reviewed slides of work done by various artists. After selection by the committee, Savage submitted a design proposal and work began on the sculpture.

The artist resides within the boundaries of the Fond du lac Reservation with his wife and three children. With no formal art training, his artistic gift has been fine-tuned with years of sculpting. An award winning artist, Savage has dedicated a majority of his artistic abilities to the continuation of traditional Chippewa art forms. Savage's work appears in various public and private collections including the collection of the Smithsonian Institute and the U.S. Department of Interior Museum, Washington D. C.




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