In April, the Owatonna Arts Center will feature Dana Hanson’s “Healing the Land” series of paintings, spiritual depictions of the Native Americans who first walked this soil.
The oil-on-stretch-canvas paintings will be displayed in chronological order, as they “tell a very important story,” Hanson said. “It’s a different kind of exhibit.”
The series actually began years ago when Hanson saw a vision of a massive Native American man with an eagle perched on his right arm and a pipe in his left hand, she said. Other visions followed, like those of “bruised, broken, bloody, and hurting feet,” then hands cleaning and wrapping those aforementioned feet.
Hanson is a very spiritual person and a Christian, so “I knew these were important,” but she wasn’t sure what to draw from the images, she said. A couple years passed, and one day Hanson was painting at her church — at The House, in Eagan, artists paint during worship services — when a woman approached her from the Dakota 38 Plus 2 Memorial Ride.
On Dec. 26, 1862, 38 Dakota men were hanged in Mankato, which remains the largest mass execution in American history, according to author and historian Colin Mustful. The hangings were the final bloody chapter of the Dakota War of 1862.
Trials for the Dakota following the war were conducted by a military tribunal, but they were done so hastily and haphazardly — the defendants had no attorneys to represent them, and they didn’t understand the proceedings — that President Abraham Lincoln invalidated a quanity of death sentences, according to Mustful. Still, 38 men went to the gallows that December, and 4,000 citizens showed up to watch the hangings.
That mass execution continues to haunt the state, as the Walker Arts Center came under fire last year after the Dakota community objected to the gallows-like design — modeled on seven U.S.-sanctioned executions, including the Mankato hanging — of a scaffold that was to be a major piece in the Minnesota Sculpture Garden. The piece was quickly dismantled after public outcry.
The Dakota 38 Plus 2 Memorial Ride, which travels over 300 miles each year and concludes in Mankato’s Reconciliation Park on the anniversary of the hangings, is in memory of those who died in Mankato — as well as two chiefs hanged later — but also a “healing and reconciliation ride for the living,” Hanson said. The “living” includes not just Native Americans, but people of all races who reside in this land.
Hanson’s dreams continued, and she met a Dakota teacher in Mankato who helped contextualize some of them, she said. “I always ask the Native Americans if what I see makes any sense or means anything to them.”
Though Hanson has been told her great-grandmother was Dakota, she hasn’t yet found documentation to prove it, but she feels she’s been chosen by God to create these paintings.
She received a grant from the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council for “Healing the Land” to produce seven paintings, but she’s painted many more, and “each one shows and honors the Native Americans in our land,” she said. “I feel like I’m the brush-holder, and (God) is helping me paint.”
Hanson eventually wants to create a booklet of images with a history for non-Native peoples to “understand what happened” historically to populations in this region like the Dakota, she said. “I feel bad that I’m my age and just finally learning the true history.”
She also plans to devote proceeds from “Healing the Land” prints to the Dakota 38 Plus 2 group, she said. “This is in my heart, not to make money off them, but to share their story.”
The series is far from complete, she said. Hanson is seeking more grants, and “I have like five or six (more) paintings started.”
Hanson traces her artistic lineage back to her grandmother, the founding member of the arts center in Faribault, and “I used to draw as a child,” but—as happens to so many—“real jobs” took her away from art as she aged, she said. “I started really painting in 2000,” although she took breaks following the deaths of her mother and grandmother, and “I started up again when we started going to The House.”
When she paints during those worship services, “I don’t even feel anybody is back there,” she said. “I step into a whole other atmosphere.”
Her OAC exhibition runs from April 8-April 29, and gallery hours are 1-5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. Members of the public can meet Hanson and learn more about her paintings and process during a special reception April 8 from 1-4 p.m.
She also has a website, Lordwarmingtonstudio.com, and Hanson—an active member of the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault—does commissioned work, including book and CD covers. She’s illustrated one children’s book and is working on another.
Ryan Anderson at 507-444-2376 or follow him on Twitter.com @randerson_ryan.