The City of Madison, Ho-Chunk Nation and the family of artist Harry Whitehorse unveiled the City’s newest public art piece in a moving celebration to commemorate Whitehorse on Friday.
The Badger, a large, bronze badger statue created by Whitehorse sits in the triangular-shaped plaza between Breese Terrace, Regent Street and Monroe Street. As one of Whitehorse’s last pieces of work before his death, the badger symbolizes his love of animals, children and environment he was in.
Because of this, The Badger is a family-friendly artwork that encourages engagement from people of all ages. It is eye-level to young children, secured on a rubber surface safe for interaction, and cast in durable bronze.
The celebration occurred Friday afternoon at the triangular plaza and featured Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, members of the Ho-Chunk Nation and many Madison citizens, including students from Wingra School.
It started with a few words from the Whitehorse’s son Kenny Whitehorse, who served as master of ceremonies and gave way to a Grand Entry led by the Color Guard and Sanford WhiteEagle Post 556 Dancers accompanied on drums by the Wisconsin Dells Singers.
The Ho-Chunk Nation also led the Veteran Navy Song to commemorate Whitehorse, who served during World War II. The audience heard from the mayor, newly elected Ho-Chunk Nation President Marlon WhiteEagle, and June and Greg Whitehorse, two of Whitehorse’s children. Each gave touching remarks on the impact Whitehorse has had on his community.
“We thank and honor Harry Whitehorse whose closeness to wildlife and his Ho-Chunk heritage are so strongly reflected in the fine detail of the brushstrokes, in the intricate carvings and the realism of his metal sculptures,” Rhodes-Conway said. “We also celebrate his incredible life and his contributions to our nation, and the city in particular.”
“My dad and his art touched the lives of many people here and around the world,” June Whitehorse said. “I’m really grateful to have known him and have been raised by him, and I hope to honor his legacy through my own art. This badger, cast in bronze will sit in this place forever. It will leave a wonderful reminder of the life of my dad, Harry Whitehorse. It will serve as a reminder that the Ho-Chunk people have always lived here, and flourished here, and Indigenous people will always be here.”
Whitehorse was born into the Ho-Chunk Nation in Black River Falls in 1927, where he began his career in art as an apprentice to his uncle, an accomplished silversmith. He joined the Navy during World War II, which only deepened his appreciation of art.
When we returned from military service, Whitehorse attended the University of Wisconsin using the G.I. Bill and studied human and animal anatomy. He also studied oil painting at the Arthur Colt School of Fine Arts in Madison and welding at Madison Area Technical College.
Whitehorse used all of the skills he learned to create his metal sculptures, which he began crafting in the 1960s. While he was interested in art, he also opened an auto body shop to support his growing family. For more than 50 years, Whitehorse created multiple art pieces using different mediums and operated his shop, called Chief Auto Body. Whitehorse has more than nine pieces of art displayed throughout Dane County.
He kept working on his art until he died in 2017 at the age of 90. The Badger, his latest art piece in Madison is a reminder of who he was.
“The entire family hopes you will all enjoy The Badger for many years to come,” Greg Whitehorse said.