Kalamazoo, Michigan: Controversial Sculpture of Whites vs IndiansThe "Fountain of the Pioneers" was meant to represent the banishment of the Potowatomi people, but it was perhaps too graphic in its representation. Sculpted by a guy who also designed toasters.
- South St., Kalamazoo, MI
- Fountain of the Pioneers, Bronson Park. South side of midtown. I-94 exit 76B. North on Westnedge Ave. for two miles, then continue north on Park St. for another mile. Turn right (east) onto South St., which is at the southwest corner of Bronson Park. The Fountain is two blocks east, in the center of the eastern half of the Park.
Visitor Tips and News About Controversial Sculpture of Whites vs Indians
Don't see it myself. Hasn't worn well.[John Mansfield, 10/02/2012]
It resembles an Art Deco waffle griddle... or a panini maker.
In 1940, Alfonso Ianelli unveiled a fountain sculpture in Bronson Park in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Titled "Fountain of the Pioneers," it depicted a blocky, Art Decoish white settler and a guy in a Plains Indian headdress. It was meant to represent the banishment of the Potowatomi people from Michigan to Iowa in the 19th century.
Ianelli wrote at the time that "the Indian is shown in posture of noble resistance, yet being absorbed as the white man advances." Other people, however, saw an Indian kneeling in submission to a white guy, who was hoisting a big club. It's difficult to tell who is right, given the vague abstractness of Ianelli's design.
Ianelli, who also designed toasters for Sunbeam, wanted his sculpture to make people think. But he likely never imagined that people would be calling for its banishment -- just like the Potowatomi -- 65 years later.
Beginning in 2005, fifteen people calling themselves the Fountain of the Pioneers Issues Resolution Group began demanding that the sculpture either be removed, destroyed, or hidden behind a high wall. They claimed that the Fountain of the Pioneers was insulting, or at least inaccurate, as Indians with big headdresses didn't live anywhere near Kalamazoo. Others suggested that plaques be added to explain what Ianelli really meant, or that the Fountain be "balanced" by another sculpture, more clearly sympathetic to the Potowatomi.
In hindsight, it's clear that Ianelli should have studied the Friendship With Chief Baconrind statue if he wanted to avoid misinterpretations and bad vibes. But it's too late for that now. The controversy remains unresolved, and although explanatory plaques seem to be the least expensive (and thus most likely) compromise, you should probably plan your trip out here sooner, rather than later.[RoadsideAmerica.com Team, 05/23/2007]
June 2011: Photo added.