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The series “Native” Commodity documents the visual rhetoric of all things “Native” within the Wisconsin Dells and looks at how the images of Native Americans are reproduced and reframed into a collective memory that is at times distorted. It draws upon and exposes historic representation of Native peoples and the way that Native American material culture is represented in advertising and popular culture.

In the late 1800’s, H. H. Bennett photographed the Wisconsin Dells landscape and the Ho Chunk people of the area. His photographic work spawned a destination for tourists throughout the Midwest. Along with Bennett, the entrepreneurs capitalized on both the landscape and the Ho Chunk for the tourist industry. So began the commodity of the American Indian and the melding of their various cultures within the Wisconsin Dells.

This was also during the time of the Wild West Shows, so interest in Native Americans was at its peak. The Wisconsin Dells took advantage of this craze and began importing Native American objects and souvenirs from all over the United States. The entrepreneurs have included the most recognizable symbols of various tribes in their architecture and advertising. The tourists encounter pueblos from the Southwest, totem poles from the Northwest, along with teepees and drawing from the Plains. There are no culture symbols used from the Ho Chunk, even though the Wisconsin Dells is a part of the original homeland of the Ho Chunk Nation.

Tom Jones

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