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Seed by Seed

Artists bring Ho-Chunk beadwork to Bascom Hall on a grand scale

The first few times they met, Molli Pauliot and Marianne Fairbanks simply talked.

The two — Pauliot is a UW–Madison PhD student, Fairbanks a faculty member — had been commissioned to create banners for the university’s 175th anniversary. But before designing anything, they spent time getting to know each other. They bonded over their mutual love of basketry, textiles and beadwork, and Pauliot, who is Ho-Chunk, shared the meaning behind some of the traditional Ho-Chunk images and symbols.

“I don’t think we could have skipped over all those initial meetings,” says Fairbanks, a textile artist and an associate professor of design studies in the School of Human Ecology. “It helped us become comfortable with each other.”

After completing their design work, Pauliot and Fairbanks sent the two-dimensional graphics to Stephen Hilyard, a professor of digital arts in the Art Department, who used 3D animation software to create the effect of 160,000 individual small beads called “seed beads.”

The title of the piece is “Seed by Seed.”

An overhead view of the table where Pauliot and Fairbanks are working. There are small woven baskets, printed images of beaded bags, a printed mockup of banners on Bascom Hall and pieces of beaded Ho-Chunk regalia, including a feather fan, garments, and bags.
Pauliot and Fairbanks came together around a shared interest in the language and structures of textiles, basketry and natural fibers.
Two women speak to each other as they handle and point to objects and printed images on a large work surface in a textile design studio. The table is covered in articles of Ho-Chunk beadwork, small woven baskets and printed images of the front of Bascom Hall.
As they began their collaboration, Pauliot (left) and Fairbanks (right) made a study of traditional Ho-Chunk beadwork, looking for the outlines of the story they wanted to tell with the banner.
Sitting at a wooden table on a screened porch, Pauliot holds up an intricately beaded bag for Fairbanks to see.
Here, Pauliot holds up a Ho-Chunk bandolier bag, a richly adorned garment with intricate beadwork. Pauliot and Fairbanks drew from traditional bandolier patterns as they designed the banners.
Sitting at a table on a screened porch, Pauliot draws with colored pencils in a large sketchbook. Fairbanks sits beside her. They both have laptops open to images of traditional beadwork.
After Pauliot and Fairbanks worked out the design on paper, the software they used to digitize the banners couldn't render a convincing beaded texture. Determined to bring authentic bandolier beadwork to Bascom, they invited Stephen Hilyard into their collaboration.
Hilyard used 3D modeling software as a digital loom, weaving together 160,000 individual beads.
Stephen Hilyard stands at a computer monitor and speaks as he talks about the computer-generated image of the Seed by Seed banners shown on the screen. He is in his home studio, a basement space with open rafters. Most of the light in the image comes from the computer monitor and a small desk lamp, creating a dramatic effect.
Hilyard was happy to be involved in the project. Along with Pauliot and Fairbanks, he felt the importance of displaying the Ho-Chunk's cultural presence so prominently on campus.
Hilyard's software brought the design to life with movement and texture so that the banners hanging from Bascom Hall today display the intricate handiwork first sketched out by Pauliot and Fairbanks with pencil and paper.

Pauliot, who began sewing and quilting at age 9, says the banners include nods to Ho-Chunk history and culture that may not be obvious to the non-Ho-Chunk.

“I felt a lot of community pressure when I started working on this project,” says Pauliot, whose dissertation topic is an ethnographic history of the traditional Ho-Chunk black ash basket. “I thought, ‘This needs to be good. This needs to be something the Ho-Chunk will be proud of.’ When I tell Ho-Chunk alumni about the project, there’s been a lot of excitement. They think it’s so cool and are really happy about it.”

Connecting past to present and our shared future

The fruits of the creative partnership formed by Pauliot, Fairbanks and Hilyard can now be seen at one of the most prominent sites on campus. The banners they designed — three panels, each about 7 feet by 16 feet — hang from the front of Bascom Hall, the university’s central administration building. The design incorporates symbols, imagery and traditional colors of the Ho-Chunk Nation, honoring those whose ancestral land UW–Madison now occupies.

“Molli, Marianne, and Stephen — I am so honored to recognize your wonderful collaboration that has given us this amazing work of art. Thank you!” Chancellor Jennifer L. Mnookin said on Nov. 7 during a ceremony on Bascom Hill celebrating the banners. “The title of this piece —‘Seed by Seed’ — reminds us of the work we are doing to acknowledge that this university sits on the ancestral homeland of the Ho-Chunk people, who were forcibly removed from this place. And it reminds us of our ongoing responsibilities to move our campus community from ignorance to awareness, and that this work can’t be confined to a day, a month or even a year. It’s a work of a lifetime.”

The installation of the banners this month coincides with Native November, an annual campus celebration of Indigenous culture. The banners will remain up through November, then return during the spring semester as part of a regular rotation of themed banners.

Chancellor Mnookin stands behind a podium with a red banner hanging from the front with the number 175 printed in white text. She is speaking into a microphone and gesturing with her hands. Behind her is Bascom Hall with the Ho-Chunk banners displayed between the building's columns.
In her remarks, Mnookin said to the gathered crowd, “We still, I know, have a lot of work to do before every person feels that this university is ‘for’ them — before they can necessarily see themselves here and can thrive here. It will take each of these seeds — and many more — to help us grow a stronger future together. And I am committed to working in partnership to doing that.”
Later in the program, Molli Pauliot stands at the podium, and speaks into the microphone. She is flanked on either side by Marianne Fairbanks and Stephen Hilyard.
As she stood alongside Fairbanks and Hilyard, Pauliot remarked, "As you view the banners, I hope we all better understand the history of campus and the Madison area and appreciate how each one of us is now part of that story. It is my hope that this design will be used more than just for these banners, that the university's Indigenous students [will] refer to them for a better understanding of how the Ho-Chunk people are tied to this land and today still have a presence here on campus."

“When the university first raised the flag of the Ho-Chunk Nation two years ago, it made national news,” says Pauliot, who is pursuing a doctorate in cultural anthropology. “It also started a lot of discussions about the university and its relationships with Native Nations. That’s what I’m hoping happens with these banners — that they continue this conversation and expand on it.”

A view of the front facade of Bascom Hall taken from a drone. On a sunny day, a few people walk across the brick and concrete path in front of the building. The four panels of the Seed by Seed banner hangs between tall, white columns above the building's main entrance. The banner has been printed with a texture resembling beadwork and contains symbols and colors representing traditions of the Ho-Chunk Nation. Four green rings represent the four lakes of Teejop, the name the Ho-Chunk give the land now occupied by UW–Madison. Inside each ring, square patches in light blue, dark blue yellow and red represent the reflections of light on the water at different times of day. Two large pink triangles on either side of the banner represent flowers, with green stems and triangular leaves leading to the center panel. On the center panel, a large diamond made of small blue triangles frames a blue thunderbird, which is flanked by two red, abstract W's, representing UW–Madison. Below the thunderbird are two green water spirits, which resemble four-legged animals with very long tails. Below the water spirits are six light blue triangles representing water. Above and below the large diamond frame are bursts of yellow beading, representing the sun. Along the bottom border of the banners are stylized animal symbols of the twelve clans of the Ho-Chunk Nation, and beneath each animal is a traditional Ho-Chunk flower motif in blue and green.

Reading banner's 'language of abstraction' Everything in the banner's design has withstood the test of time for the past 200 years, says Pauliot. And each depiction of Ho-Chunk culture represented in the pattern can still be seen today on the UW–Madison campus, a place the Ho-Chunk people call Teejop.

The banners mix images both recognizable and abstract. The four green rings on the outer panels evoke the four lakes of Teejop, Pauliot says. Inside each ring, square patches in light blue, dark blue yellow and red represent the reflections of light on the water at different times of day.

Everything in the banner's design has withstood the test of time for the past 200 years, says Pauliot. And each depiction of Ho-Chunk culture represented in the pattern can still be seen today on the UW–Madison campus, a place the Ho-Chunk people call Teejop. The banners mix images both recognizable and abstract. The four green rings on the outer panels evoke the four lakes of Teejop, Pauliot says. Inside each ring, square patches in light blue, dark blue yellow and red represent the reflections of light on the water at different times of day.

In an aerial photo taken on a mid-October morning, a view of the UW campus and downtown Madison surrounded by three of Madison's four lakes: Mendota, Monona and Wingra.

Pauliot sought to represent Teejop as it exists today with symbols that illustrate the endurance of Ho-Chunk culture. The lakes symbolize a through-line for campus and the Ho-Chunk people, connecting our past to our shared present and future.

A closeup view of the center columns of Bascom Hall where the Seed by Seed banners hang on a sunny day.

The center banner includes a blue thunderbird and two green water spirits. On either side of the thunderbird, two abstract red W's represent UW–Madison, while yellow blazes above and below symbolize the light of the sun.

A view of the green grass and trees on Observatory Hill in front of Washburn Observatory. The ground rises and falls along the contours of an ancient effigy mound

On Observatory Hill, visitors to UW's campus can see the double-tailed water spirit mound as well as this mound of a bird next to Washburn Observatory. And still today, says Pauliot, "there is a large thunderbird mound present on the landscape" on the north shore of Lake Mendota.

A view over the crest of Bascom Hill looking toward the Seed by Seed banners hanging on Bascom Hall.

Along the bottom of the banner run the symbols of the 12 Ho-Chunk clans, representing the two complementary tribal subdivisions: Those-Who-Are-Above (Thunder, Warrior, Eagle and Pigeon) and Those-Who-Are-On-Earth (Bear, Buffalo, Deer, Wolf, Elk, Fish, Water Spirit and Snake). While designing each clan symbol, Pauliot sought out traditional bead loom patterns from members of the Ho-Chunk community.

In a close-up photo, a woman holds up an intricately beaded bag in shades of white, blue, yellow, red, pink and orange.

The tabs along the bottom of the banner are styled on the bandolier bag's traditional hem, as Pauliot's daughter, Julia White, demonstrates with her own bag during the banner celebration on Nov. 7.

“Textile language is all about abstraction,” Fairbanks says. “So even something that looks abstract, like the four squares in the banner design, can be a reference to the four lakes in Madison. I often talk to my students about this — just because something is abstract doesn’t mean it is devoid of meaning. We’re not trained very well as visual thinkers to analyze what we are seeing, but I think once we spend a little time and dedicate ourselves to thinking more about what something could mean, then we uncover deeper meaning and narratives.”

Throughout the design process, Pauliot and Fairbanks drew inspiration from beaded bandolier bags — dazzling objects that showcased remarkable technical skill and were highly valued when trading with other tribes. Using the latest 3D software, Hilyard sought to replicate some of that intricacy on a grand scale.

“I was very happy to be involved,” he says. “I felt it was such an important thing to see Ho-Chunk beadwork in one of the most marquee sites on campus. This seems like an important thing for the university to do.”

Pauliot finds the beads an apt metaphor for the developing relationship between UW–Madison and the Ho-Chunk Nation. She serves as the project assistant for Our Shared Future, a university initiative that represents UW–Madison’s commitment to respect the inherent sovereignty of the Ho-Chunk Nation.

“In beadwork, you weave together, one by one, thousands of seed beads to form something beautiful,” she says. “That’s how I view Our Shared Future. With each little positive interaction, we are hopefully weaving together, seed by seed, a future based on collaboration and mutual respect.”