Arts and Culture

Revisiting a mural at the American Indian Center

Artist George Morrison's signature chevron feathers will enjoy new prominence as part of the American Indian Center's $32.5 million expansion

Amphitheater with mural at the Minneapolis American Indian Center
A large-scale geometric mural by artist George Morrison overlooks an amphitheater near the intersection of Bloomington and Franklin Avenues on May 31. Many were worried the mural would disappear with the renovation but that will not be the case.
Melissa Olson | MPR News file

A $32.5 million expansion is underway at the Minneapolis American Indian Center. The Center is at the heart of the American Indian Cultural Corridor that stretches along East Franklin Avenue. Longtime visitors may notice that a large public artwork that has been a signature of the corridor since the 1970s is currently absent. 

“One of the most important things that we're doing is relocating the George Morrison mural that's on the outside,” says Sam Olbekson, the project’s architect and a member of the White Earth Nation. The mural installation is made of cedar boards placed in a chevron pattern to create an abstracted feather. Olbekson says the piece was carefully dismantled in early December and shipped to a conservator. 

“Right now, it's in transportation to Montana to be taken apart, reassembled, cleaned, and then we're going to put it back onto the building on the exterior in a different location,” he says. “That piece of art is very important for the center and the community.” 

Sign at Minneapolis American Indian Center
Open since 1975, the Minneapolis American Indian Center, seen on May 31, is in the midst of major renovations. Longtime visitors may notice that a large public artwork that has been a signature of the corridor since the 1970s is currently absent.
Melissa Olson | MPR News file

In his 1998 memoir, “Turning the Feather Around: My Life in Art,” Morrison discussed the center and the artwork, and how he acquired a $10,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to design the façade. 

Morrison recounted how he drew a design plan for carpenters to follow using cedar boards. The design created a 3-D optical illusion that the chevrons were turning around. The mural was then dedicated during the center’s opening ceremony in 1975. Twenty years on, Morrison said he thought passersby wouldn’t notice it. 

“They probably just think the mural is the side of the building. They don’t understand that it originated as a work of art,” Morrison wrote. “Who is there to take care of it but myself?” 

He then outlined the artwork’s need for maintenance and care, including applying a reddish stain and a lacquer to protect it. 

“I’d like to put in spotlights and have a plaque made for the mural that states it is an original work of art. It would be nice to call it ‘Turning the Feather Around.’ A mural for the Indian,” he wrote. 

When the center’s expansion nears completion, slated for 2025, the mural will be reinstalled “front and center” on the new east side, protected by overhangs. Olbekson says they plan to honor Morrison’s intentions for the work. 

“He designed it so the community could see it, so that was important for us to do,” Olbekson says. 

This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment's Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.