Wheel Public Art Installation
Located between the Denver Art Museum and The Denver Library, this modern outdoor sculpture symbolizes the Big Horn Medicine Wheel. The public art installation consists of ten red poles topped with abstract birds flying in a circle. The circle is astrologically positioned to receive the summer solstice on June 21st. Stories of American Indians adorn the cultures and the art installation is utilized as an ending place for the Sand Creek Massacre Spiritual Run-Walk. In 2018, Wheel was taken down during a renovation of the Denver Art Museum with the intent of being rededicated along with soil from the original site.
Backstory and Context
In 2005, the art installation known as Wheel was dedicated to the city of Denver thanks to the efforts of the Denver Art Museum. Artist Edgar Heap of Birds designed this sculpture which consists of ten forked poles with information about Native American History. In 2018, the art installation was taken down during a renovation of the Gio Ponti North building. This decision was initially met with anger by the artist who was not informed of the decision.
The art installation was created to be a gathering place for the community and serves as the end of the Sand Creek Massacre Spiritual Run-Walk in honor of the victims Sand Creek Massacre of 1864. In this tragic chapter of Colorado history, soldiers massacred 230 Cheyenne and Arapahoe at Sand Creek. The route represents the 173 miles used by the soldiers when they returned to Denver where paraded into the city with dismembered body parts of the Native people they had killed.
The circle, formed by the red metal birds, is reminiscent of the Big Horn Medicine Wheel. The ten poles align with the summer solstice that happens on June 21st. The sun rises in an opening to the east between the first and last poles. Each pole recounts stories of the American Indian people in Colorado and surrounding regions. Behind the work on the old North Building were the words “nah-kev-ho-eyea-zim” which can be translated to “turning back around to where we came from” or “we are always returning back home again.”
Until 2018, the sculpture sat on the land directly in front of the Denver Art Museums North (Ponti) Building. As the Denver Art Museum planned a major renovation to the building, they intended to move Wheel to another location. However, they failed to disclose the move to the artist which resulted in a heated exchange between the museum and artist Heap of Birds. The two parties have since resolved the dispute and the Denver Art Museum has approval from the artist about where to reinstall Wheel. Additionally the Denver Art Museum agreed to move 12 inches of soil from the original location to the new site.
Heap of Birds stated about the relocation,
“We’ve all deepened our understanding, and the mission of art is to deepen our understanding.”
- Wheel, Denver Art Museum. Accessed June 11th 2020. https://denverartmuseum.org/edu/object/wheel.
- Annual Spiritual Healing Run, National Park Service. November 21st 2019. Accessed June 14th 2020. https://www.nps.gov/sand/planyourvisit/annual-spiritual-healing-run-walk.htm.
- The Denver Post Editorial Board. Controversy over Denver Art Museum’s “Wheel” leads to deeper understanding, The Denver Post. December 26th 2016. Accessed June 14th 2020. https://www.denverpost.com/2016/12/26/controversy-over-wheel-deepens-understanding/.
Denver Art Museum
Denver Art Museum
Denver Art Museum
Heap of Birds Artist Site