North Hegman Pictographs. The arrangement of figures at the main panel of the North Hegman Lake, Minnesota rock art site appears to have been carefully composed at one time by one rock artist. Its present excellent condition suggests either that it may not be especially old or that it is a site where an older pictograph has been repainted. The rock art appears to represent Ojibwe meridian constellations visible in winter during the early evening, knowledge of which may have been useful for navigating in the deep woods during the winter hunting season. Support for a suggested multi-layered interpretive model comes from a review of various culturally specific ethnohistorical sources. The inclusion of elements from widely known Ojibwe legends and references to constellations with cosmological or religious significance make it an intriguing scene with many interesting culturally specific referents. This panel is perhaps the most visited and photogenic pictograph within the State of Minnesota and it possesses remarkable artistic merit.
Some of the best known and most photographed pictographs in the Upper Midwest are located at North Hegman Lake, northwest of Ely, MN, in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on a granite cliff overlooking the water. This rock art is located within the "northern woodlands" stylistic rock art region of Campbell Grant (1983) and Klaus Wellmann (1979).
The panel shows a human figure in an outstretched arms posture standing near a quadruped animal with a long tail, possibly a dog or wolf, and a remarkably well drawn bull moose with splayed hooves and dew claws. (A dew claw on a moose is a reduced hind toe or the false rudimentary hoof above the true hoof .) Beneath these figures is a long horizontal line, probably representing the ground or horizon, and above the human figure are two vertical rows of short horizontal lines or dashes. One set has 4 lines and next to it are 3 lines. Above and to the right are what look like three canoes. The top two canoes have two paddlers and the third has a faint single one in the middle. Above the moose's rack is a single mark. Above all of these figures is a large cross like a "plus" sign.
Several feet to the left of the scene are other much more faint pictographs including 6 horizontal lines, one above the other, three crosses above each other, and a "Y" shaped figure with a "C" shape to it with diagonal strokes. There may also be a spiral and grid-like figure near the water.
The arrangement of figures at the main panel of the North Hegman Lake, Minnesota rock art site appears to have been carefully composed at one time by one rock artist. After examining the pictographs from about a foot away, it appears that the application of the red ochre was relatively recent, since it hardly looks weathered compared to other similar red ochre pictographs in northern Minnesota. It is also possible that someone has carefully reapplied ochre to a much older pictograph.
Although experiments have shown that red ochre on a rock face can become sealed through natural processes and remain quite bright even when very old, I saw no particular indication from looking at the panel up close that it was naturally encapsulated or sealed; however, I have not viewed it under magnification nor conducted any sort of microscopic examination of the surface.
The most likely candidates for the cultural groups who were making red ochre pictographs with these kinds of figures during the historical period were the Ojibwe and Cree. Other similar sites in the region have been investigated by researchers like Thor Conway (1993), Selwyn Dewdney and Kenneth Kidd (1973), Henry R. Schoolcraft (1851), Grace Rajnovich (1994) and others. Most of the other recent red ochre pictographs in this area appear to have been made by Ojibwe individuals who were recording shamanistic dreams and visions and Ojibwe leaders who were recording their biographical exploits.
The panel's anthropomorphic figure is painted with an "outstretched arms" posture rather than an "upraised arms" posture. Henry R. Schoolcraft, an Indian Agent whose wife was half Ojibwe and whose mother-in-law was a full-blood Ojibwe, authored a multi-volume work called Historical and Statistical Information . . . of the Indian tribes of the United States published in 1851. According to Schoolcraft, in pictographic inscriptions used in hunting, an anthropomorph with upraised and outstretched arms "depicts a Meda [shaman]. He is about to open his performances, and appeals to the candor and sympathy of his fellows.