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MFA finds fertile ground for reengaging with ‘Great Spirit’ sculpture

The Museum of Fine Arts is doing a major new installation around the controversial "Appeal to the Great Spirit" sculpture by Cyrus Dallin to address what many see as a painful stereotype. With shovels and small machines, workers at the MFA’s Huntington Avenue entrance prepared the ground around the statue, which has remained there since 1912.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

Ten months ago, we wrote a letter to the Globe decrying the potential decision to remove Cyrus Dallin’s “Appeal to the Great Spirit” sculpture at the Museum of Fine Arts. Our thought was that to relocate it would mean removing acknowledgment of the skilled artist, Dallin, champion of Indigenous causes in his own time, not to mention that the sculpture itself is a beloved icon in Boston.

One can imagine how delighted we were to read the piece last week by Murray Whyte on two planned installations at the museum (“New thinking crops up (literally) around the MFA’s ‘Appeal to the Great Spirit,’ ” Metro, May 12). We are thrilled that the MFA has decided to hire two artists of color to install gardens around the work, one of which, “Raven Reshapes Boston: A Native Corn Garden at the MFA,” by Elizabeth James Perry, of the Aquinnah Wampanoag, specifically addresses the statue’s legacy. (The other, “Radiant Community,” is an extension of Ekua Holmes’s “Roxbury Sunflower Project.”)


By sanctioning this response, the MFA is not only responding to the public outcry; even better, it is also showing the purpose and the reach of art itself. In this Solomonic decision, and by making itself a site of growing artwork, the MFA is continuing and expanding the essential conversation about diversity and the place of art and appropriation rather than eliminating it entirely by the disappearance of Dallin’s work.

Knowledge, as Socrates knew, starts with conversation, not by silence. Thank you, MFA, for enhancing our vision by expanding your own.

Olivia Fischer Fox


Susan Goldwitz


Fischer Fox is an artist, and Goldwitz is a fine art curator.