Once Effigy
Single-channel video with audio
3 minute 42 second seamless loop

During the Late Woodland Period (AD 650-1200), the early Natives of present-day Wisconsin refined the distinct cultural practice of burying their dead in pits beneath large earthen mounds. These earthworks became known as “effigy mounds,” as they were commonly built in the shape of animals. Animal forms were chosen for their spiritual or cultural significance to the community, and the sites appear to have functioned as gathering places for various ceremonial activities. Whatever their exact meaning, these activities likely served to reinforce the group’s identity and connection to the land.

The Vilas neighborhood in Madison, Wisconsin was designed to preserve Bear Mound Park, the site of an 82-foot long bear-shaped effigy mound built by the Late Woodland people. Early archeological excavations reveal that most mounds of this type were built as grave markers for human bones, at times accompanied by shell, rock, charcoal, and the bones of other animals.

.25 miles, 1000 years, and two divergent ethics separate this once effigy from the neighborhood’s other bears: the bears at the Henry Vilas Zoo. The zoo was founded in 1911 on 28 acres (.04 sq miles) of land, built its first bear cage in 1913, and by 1952 had acquired a total of 22 bears. In the wild, a single grizzly bear's home range can be anywhere from 4,480 to 80,000 acres (7 to 125 sq miles). Today, the zoo is currently planning an $8.6 million dollar complex that will house grizzly bears, polar bears, harbor seals, and others. In the words of a Henry Vilas Zoo keeper, “they deserve better.” The total addition is 1.7 acres.