Clarence (Cal) Peters Murals (Menomonie, Wisconsin)
Artist: Clarence (Cal) Peters
Date of Action: August 2016
Region: North America
Location: Menomonie, Wisconsin
Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion
Medium: Public Art
Confronting Bodies: University of Wisconsin-Stout
Description of Artwork: The paintings -- (i) French Trappers on The Red Cedar; (ii) Learning, Industry, Skill and Honor; (iii) Perrault's Trading Fort[total of 3 murals] -- which were commissioned under the Works Progress Administration and painted by artist Cal Peters in 1935, can be found in the University's Harvey Hall, a building that underwent major renovations during the time of this incident. In preparation for the Hall's grand re-opening during fall 2016, the paintings were to be restored by university art students under the direction of their professors. The restoration work, funded by the Wisconsin Historical Society, began back in 2013. However, the paintings caught the eye of the University's Diversity Leadership Team (DLT) who expressed concern that the depiction of First Nations people would reinforce racial stereotypes.
The Incident: "During the summer of 2016, the University's Diversity Leadership Team (DLT), who expressed concern that the depiction of First Nations people would reinforce racial stereotypes, brought this issue to the attention of University Chancellor Bob Meyer who, after a series of discussions with the DLT, ruled in their favor. Because of the risk of ""having a harmful effect on our students and other viewers,"" the paintings will not appear in the new Harvey Hall and will be placed into storage, Chancellor Meyer announced. Given the sensitive subject matter of the paintings, he continued, if they are to be displayed, it must be in ""a controlled gallery space"" that provides ""context"" for a viewer. And “a controlled gallery space” just does not exist at the University, so the paintings will most likely just remain out of view.
The Chancellor at the University of Wisconsin-Stout announced two of three historic paintings depicting interactions between white traders and First Nations people were to be removed from public view because of their potentially ""harmful effect"" on students and other viewers."
Results of Incident: Shortly after receiving NCAC and FIRE’s letter on Friday, Aug 5th, 2016, Wisconsin-Stout Chancellor Bob Meyer announced the two paintings will not be placed into storage but will instead be relocated for display under “controlled circumstances.” In an interview with local radio, Chancellor Meyer explained the intent behind his initial decision was not to censor, but was rather a strategic “business” move to encourage more Native American student applications to the university.
In 2013, Professor Joan Navarre oversaw two classes that investigated the murals: https://library.uwstout.edu/archivesclasses