The Soil You See…

Wendy Red Star

On the National Mall, roughly equidistant between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, a new kilnformed glass artwork has taken its place in the national spotlight. See recent articles in the Washington Post (and again), the New York Times, Indianz, NBC News, Axios, Hyperallergic, Artnet, The Collector, The Cut, The Missoulian, etc.

Designed by Apsáalooke and Portland-based artist Wendy Red Star, The Soil You See… is a semi-transparent red thumbprint in solid kilnformed glass. Standing just shy of eight-feet tall, four-feet wide, and two-inches thick (with a 6000-pound boulder serving as its pedestal) the artwork, which was fabricated for Red Star by Bullseye Studio, is one of six installations featured in a novel exhibition of temporary national monuments.

The exhibition, titled Beyond Granite: Pulling Together, is the collaborative effort of several organizations, led by the Trust for the National Mall, Monument Lab, the National Park Service (NPS), and the National Capital Planning Commission. The exhibition’s stated ambition is to “create a more inclusive, equitable, and representative commemorative landscape on the National Mall.” To that end, its monuments each “respond to a central question: What stories remain untold on the National Mall?

Red Star’s monument is situated on a small island in the lake that graces Constitution Gardens. Forgetting the arduous tale of how 500 pounds of glass and 6000 pounds of boulder made its way there, the thing that makes this location particularly interesting is the artwork’s island neighbor, a lesser-known permanent monument dedicated in 1984: the Memorial to the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence. It is, essentially, the John Hancocks of John Hancock and company, all etched in stone. Next to the 56 Signers, Red Star’s thumbprint radiates meaning. Etched in its red whorls are the names of fifty Apsáalooke chiefs and tribal representatives who gave their signatory thumbprints (and x’s) to ratify treaties with the U.S. government between 1825 and 1880. They are names not often memorialized in the center of national power.

What stories remain untold on the National Mall? When the sun moves through the sky and the Washington Monument’s obelisk casts its shadow long across the land, The Soil You See… catches red fire. Its incandescent glow—one of the lone sources of color on the Mall—hits the ground. That visceral moment resounds the way only art can, the way only glass can. 

Bullseye Studio is honored to have partnered with Wendy Red Star and her team to fabricate The Soil You See… From replicating the artist’s thumbprint at magnitude, and her handwriting with each leader’s name, to helping see the piece mounted on the island in Constitution Gardens, our ambition echoes Teresa Durkin, the executive vice president of the Trust for the National Mall, who stated in a recent news release, “I hope Beyond Granite: Pulling Together sparks important, and sometimes hard conversations in living rooms, classrooms, sidewalks, and beyond, about our collective experience and history as Americans.” 

The Soil You See… is showing at the National Mall until September 18, 2023. After then, it will be on view at the Tippet Rise Art Center beginning in summer of 2024.

Special thanks to Wendy Red Star, Trust for the National Mall, Monument Lab, Quarra, Team Henry.