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Day Two

January 18, 2010

I got to the tipi 15 minutes before opening bell. The stove lit up like a dream: three carefully placed matches; a good blazing fire of the wood scraps from building the sauna. The sauna was 135F by the time the first visitor stooped thru the tipi door.
Hundreds of men, women, children and dogs all day.
Tomorrow will be my first day out there alone. I’ll be able to sweep out the sawdust, hang the velour liner, and cozy it up.

Day One

January 17, 2010

I’d like to say that everything went without a hitch but that would inaccurate. As some of you know, I had to leave the rest of the Black Bania team for few days to carry on while I returned to New York for the installation of my show, First Supper at Josee Bienvenu Gallery. When I came back to the ice at 6 pm on Friday, it was dark and cold and five brave men had been struggling for two and a half days to get a square room to fit in a round tipi on a frozen lake. The poles were in place but there was a fit problem with the skin (the footprint of the tipi had shrunk considerably for planned and unplanned reasons); there wasn’t a flashlight in sight; and my warm clothes and snow boots were locked inside the truck along with the keys to that truck. Even on the warmest days, when then sun goes down the temperature drops radically and it tickles a sense of panic in even the best of us.
Judi, the newest member of the team, went to get flashlights and hardware. Thomas called Amex for a locksmith and I squatted on the cold ice re-jiggering grommets and position of the tipi skin as best I could. Shawn’s paents had a pizza delivered to the lake. The early shift left when the skin got clamped together. And the walls were sawn down to fit by hand (the sawzall batteries were drained by then). By 11 pm we were out of batteries, certain vital hardware, and the desire climb ladders in cold and wind, and decided that we should get an early start in the morning before the adoring public showed up a 10 am.
Judi and I were the only customers at the Home Depot when it opened on Saturday morning, but it had nothing we wanted. We went to a Menards instead where a helpful salesperson scratched his head at my odd list of parts. Then Rik and Judi and I headed off to the ice with a clear headed mission: stop the skin from flapping around and make the wooden room really hot.
It was nearly noon before Rik was stoking the stove. Minnesotans had been swarming the ice for nearly two hours pulling their infants in sleds and peaking into our tipi with words of awe and encouragement.
By 2:30 pm the first of the Riot Act Readings was presented on our front deck to a mezmerized crowd of at least a hundred people and a several hundred passersby. (We’ll post video later.)
By 5:30 it was dark and most of the public had left the lake. Dwayne and I sat in our now warm, quiet tipi a bit shell-shocked but very happy. Day one was done.
The hundreds of people who had visited the sauna and tipi in those few hours was astonishing and rewarding. Most people just peeked in stood a minute in the sauna and left. One woman took off her socks and had her husband dry then over the stove with a stick. I’ll post Dwayne’s photos as soon as I can.
We locked up the tipi as best I could and went for a shower and a hot bowl of soup at Judi’s. I start sleeping in the tipi on Monday.
The big work is over. Now it’s all about fun. This is what the Black Bania Team does best: have fun.

Day two and another thousand Minneasotans in a couple hours.


January 11, 2010

It’s been miserably cold but somehow we are making progress. All the materials are sitting on the lake awaiting assembly. We are expecting warmer weather–in the mid 20s–for the next few days.

The last component, and star of the show, the sauna will be built tonight. Wednesday will be a big lake day–getting the platform together and the tipi erection.

But I fly back to New York today to install my exhibition “First Supper” that opens on Jan. 14. I won’t be on hand for all this excitement. I’ve passed the baton to my wonderful team. They have been incredible this past week working in the ice and snow and the colder than outside conditions in the Soap Factory. I haven’t known most of them very long but they are all the kinda guys who get things done while being good company too.

Last night we had a meeting about the coming week and at the end we made a scale model of the tipi so we could talk through the process.

Here’s a picture of the practice tipi.
One inch=one foot.

Minus One

January 8, 2010

When I woke up yesterday morning in Harlem it was a balmy 27˚F. On Medicine Lake it was -1˚F. I left for Minneapolis Wednesday evening. My plane landed at midnight just before another storm blew in.

The indoor workspace provided us is not heated, two nights ago while talking to my team, I came to realize how not heated it is. These are the times that make for precious memories.

On Saturday, our primary “on-ice” installation day, the low temperature is predicted to be -12˚F. I don’t know what the “real feel” temp is calculated for. At those temperatures, nothing works. The batteries drain nearly instantly rendering power tools useless. Also rendered useless: exposed skin and overtaxed brains. Everything fails to cooperate when it’s that cold including humanity’s will to make art.

Last week’s fear that the ice might not be thick enough are dissipating quickly, replaced by visions of piles of poles and wooden platforms at the side of a frozen lake, wind blowing, not a useful tool in sight. It might be too cold to work. So we are going back to the drawing board, redesigning the modules of our deck to to be larger and go together faster. The deck and (the tipi on top) must be built on skis so it can be dragged out to its site on the ice with chains and ropes by a truck. The weather and the holidays have conspired to thwart our best laid plans to scavenge the wood and other materials for the deck as we had planned. All this means we need more material—and more money.

So I did what I could in Harlem before I left: packing everything wool, down, fleece, and gore-tex that I own; reading and re-reading the tipi book; and rehearsing in my head the tipi assembly dance. It is good to have my gore-tex wool-lined “boots on the ground,” and to meet face to face with the Black Bania team this afternoon after hours of phone time and millions of emails. I have a grocery list of building supplies to buy and a stove to pick up; a 50-foot diameter semicircle of tipi skin to cut and grommet. I’ve packed twenty five yards each of hook and loop velcro in my suitcase just in case it comes in handy.

…And I am writing you and hoping some of you will send a few bucks towards the project. Times are tough, don’t feel bad if you can’t help. You help me everyday by being my friends and family. But if you want to contribute, do it clicking the “donate” button on the website.

Admunsen brought 52 high quality sled dogs with him on his trip to the Southpole. He returned with eleven. He killed the dogs along the way using them as food for the humans and the remaining dogs and leaving caches of dog meat for the return journey. He was a man with a plan. He was the first man there and he lived to tell of it.

Did you hear the one about the guy

December 29, 2009

Did you hear about the guy who went to the psychiatrist and asked for help because one morning he wakes up and thinks he’s a tipi and the next morning he thinks he’s a wigwam.  The doc said “I know your problem, you’re too tense!”

We Have Tipi Poles!

December 22, 2009

The tipi poles arrived on Monday.

Two young men drove them on a hitch all the way from Wisconsin to Minneapolis. These twenty four 30-foot poles were generously lent to us by Noisy Creek Tipi Poles. Twenty four long, straight, skinny, trees that will make the bones of our tipi.

(Pictures taken by Shawn McLearen.)

Thirty feet of the real thing.

Our Plans Compared with the World’s Largest Tipi

December 14, 2009

Some of you are having trouble visualizing our  tipi. Here are some stats for the world’s largest tipi from the Red Hawk Trading site. Our tipi is only 22′ in diameter. Planned stats for the Black Bania follow. We won’t need a crane to erect ours.

The world’s largest teepee was commissioned for use during the Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Olympics.


  • Height: 46′ 2″  up to middle
    • 55′ up the front
    • 52′ 7in up the back.
  • Circumference around the base is 165′.
  • The floor area is  2166 square feet.
  • The cover weighs over 700 Pounds
  • 675 sq yards of canvas were used.
  • Contains 1340′ of seams
  • 32 interior poles
  • 2 59ft long smoke flaps poles with 55 lacing pins
The teepee is done in authentic style which includes tilt back which makes the base oval.


  • Height: 21′  up to middle
    • 24′ up the sides
  • Circumference around the base is 69′.
  • The floor area is  380 square feet.
  • The cover weighs only 62.5 Pounds
  • 1500 square feet of clear tarp will be used.
  • Contains no seams
  • 20 interior poles
  • Velcro closure with no lacing pins