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The Whitehorse Ho Chunk Family

Indigenous Madison

Madison Magazine cover story, December 2015

I gasped when I first saw Tim Burton’s masterful cover design featuring Ho Chunk native elder and world-famous artist Harry Whitehorse. It’s just so striking. Tim knows I’m a big fan and, up until this issue, I’d kept his November 2010 Madison Magazine cover on display in my office. That one featured a gorgeous close-up of hospice guru Doc Rock’s face, weathered and well-worn from years of good work and magic. Six years later, I replaced it with this image of Harry.

Harry wasn’t dressed like this when I met him, although he did have that same wise, serene, slightly mischievous look on his face. He sat quietly on the couch and, despite being one of the oldest males in the Whitehorse family, he let the others do the talking. And there were so many others—an unexpected surprise. I’d arrived at the Whitehorse home that morning expecting to interview Harry, his older brother Walter, and his son, Kenny. What I stumbled into instead can only be described as a bustling, festive family reunion. The Whitehorses had taken this opportunity to gather together from far and wide and catch up in the very moment I’d scheduled a quiet conversation. It was wonderful, warm and chaotic; a cacophony of laughter and storytelling—and it was admittedly difficult to keep up and follow along, just as it would be for any stranger entering someone else’s family event (trying to transcribe the recordings later was crazy-challenging). Once I got a bead on the situation, I tried to surreptitiously sneak a heads-up text to photographer Beth Skogen, scheduled to arrive 30 minutes after I had—but there was no need to warn her. She’s a pro and she slipped right in with the flow, fluidly and reverently capturing the editorial images that so beautifully complement this story. In the end, I think we both felt privileged to have been the proverbial flies on those art-adorned walls.

—Maggie Ginsberg is an award-winning freelance writer in Madison, Wisconsin

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