double negative | a website about Michael Heizer
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"They are works of art that can be considered works of art
but don't have to be in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum."

-Michael Heizer

Photo of Effigy Tumuli

Effigy Tumuli is Michael Heizer's only representational work. Designed in the tradition of Native American mound building, Effigy Tumuli consists of five different mounds of earth that resemble geometrically abstracted animals, each chosen because they are indiginous to the region: a catfish, a water strider (insect), a frog, a turtle, and a snake. The work, part of which can be seen in the photo to the right, is located in Buffalo Rock State Park, near Ottawa, Illinois (approximately 85 miles southwest of Chicago), on Buffalo Rock, a bluff overlooking the Illinois River.

Buffalo Rock was once the site of a mine, and as part of its conversion into a state park, the Ottowa Silica Company Foundation comissioned Heizer in 1983 to complete the large-scale tumuli at Buffalo Rock. The work was completed in 1985. The tumuli, like most of Heizer's earthworks, are massive in scale. Water strider is 685 feet long, frog is 340 feet long, turtle is 650 feet long, catfish is 770 feet long, and snake is 2,070 feet long from head to tail (though it curves). Whereas frog, turtle, and catfish are essentially mounds built upon the flat bluff of Buffalo Rock, turtle and snake utilize the natural geography to their advantage, with the turtle's shell being formed by a mound as the rock dips to the river level, and the snake curving around and also dipping down 90 feet to the river level.

Photo of Effigy Tumuli Catfish Photo of Effigy Tumuli Water Strider


Effigy Tumuli is located in Buffalo Rock State Park, outside of Ottawa, Illinois, and approximately 85 miles southwest of Chicago, Illinois. The park is a popular spot for recreation, and is open to the public. It is operated by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, which maintains a website on the park with directions. Public tours and interpretive programs at the park are available. For more information, please call the park's interpretive office at (815) 433-2224.


In print:

  • Douglas C. McGill, Michael Heizer: Effigy Tumuli (New York: Abrams, 1990), Paperback, ISBN 0-810-92374-2, Hardcover, ISBN 0-810-91166-3
  • "Project Pays Tribute to Indian Art," Chicago Tribune (21 Feb 1984)
  • Frederick C. Wilson, "Illinois's Do-It-Yourself Park" The Wall Street Journal (20 Apr 1984)
  • Douglas C. McGill, "Illinois Project to Turn Mined Land into Sculpture," The New York Times (3 Jun 1985, Page C17)
  • Wade Roberts, "Mound Sculpture Gives Town a Lift" Chicago Sun-Times (9 Jun 1985)

On the web:

Also visit the master list of links on our website.

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Please see the credits for proprietary information about this website.