Gail Rothschild

Monument (to a) Mountain

1991


Marble, branches, crushed marble, and river cobbles. 12 x 20 x 150 feet.

At his estate, Chesterwood, in the early 20th century, Daniel Chester French sculpted monuments of white men such as the Lincoln Memorial for Washington, D. C. French had his studio built with a scenic view of Monument Mountain. He probably knew something about the mountain having been named for a famous Indian mound of stones at its base. He may even have known local romantic legend which calls the stones a “monument” to an Indian maiden’s suicide for thwarted love.

But, my research into local history revealed that three hundred years earlier the Huh-he-ka-ne-ok people called the mountain Mas-wa-se-hi (Nest Standing Up). They generously showed the young Yale-educated minister who had come to convert them to Christianity a great mound of stones at the foot of the mountain adding a stone as they passed by. “It was the custom of our fathers to do so,” was all they would tell him.

The Muh-he-ka-ne-ok were so helpful to the colonists – even fighting on their side in the Revolutionary War – that they were promised the land the white people called “Stockbridge” forever.

Not long after, the monument of stones was dispersed by greedy white men, convinced that it must be a sign of buried treasure. And the Muh-he-ka-ne-ok people were disbursed by land-hungry farmers. They were forced westward, joining with newly homeless New York tribes such as the Munsee along the way.

On the map of Wisconsin today, you can locate a small patch labeled “Stockbridge Munsee Reservation”. It seems the final irony for the Muh-he-ka-ne-ok that even their name has been stolen.

As I was working on the piece, a local expert told me that some of the Muh-he-ka-ne-ok had been coming back to Mas-wa-se-hi carrying with them stones to start a new mound in their ancestral home. But this time only they will know where it is.

A pathway of crushed marble curves down a slope at Chesterwood, virtually connecting French’s studio and the mountain. Four gateways of woven branches punctuate its length. The gateways frame the studio in one direction and the mountain in the other. At each end of the path sits a marble disk from a nearby quarry, piled with stones. The viewer is invited to read a text detailing the history of the Muh-he-ka-ne-ok and Monument Mountain and to carry a stone along the path toward the mountain.

Monument (to a) Mountain, 1991
Marble, branches, crushed marble, and river cobbles
12 x 20 x 150 feet

Monument (to a) Mountain, 1991
Marble, branches, crushed marble, and river cobbles
12 x 20 x 150 feet

Monument (to a) Mountain, 1991
Marble, branches, crushed marble, and river cobbles
12 x 20 x 150 feet

Monument (to a) Mountain, 1991
Marble, branches, crushed marble, and river cobbles
12 x 20 x 150 feet

Monument (to a) Mountain, 1991
Marble, branches, crushed marble, and river cobbles
12 x 20 x 150 feet

Monument (to a) Mountain, 1991
Marble, branches, crushed marble, and river cobbles
12 x 20 x 150 feet