Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Family dream

A few miles down the road from Mount Rushmore sits the Crazy Horse Memorial. Unfinished, it stands as witness to a story even more dramatic than that of the presidential mount.

Award-winning sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski, son of Polish parents, was invited by the Lakota Indians of the Black Hills to create a monument to native Americans. He accepted, and began work in 1949. He had no funding, few tools, no help.

But from the beginning visitors stopped in to watch the work, recalls wife Ruth, who carries on the project today with 7 of the couple’s 10 children. Some 5,000 came that first year.

In the early years, Ziolkowski worked entirely alone; he died in 1982. Today a crew of seven engineers, blasters and sculptors continue the slow process year after year.

The project is a non-profit organization and takes no government funding. Korczak Ziolkowski believed in the strength of the individual, and the government’s track record with funding and with native Americans isn’t admirable. Most of the money comes from visitor entry fees; about 1.5 million come each year.

The monument is designed to honor all native Americans, but to date, only one tribe has made a monetary contribution. “They’re just finding out about us,’’ says Ruth, now 80. As we chat, people keep coming up to her, thanking her for the work here, and she’s clearly considered a local treasure.

There’s no time table for finishing the project, but in 7 to 10 years the plan is to have carved away all the surface rock to within 20 feet of finishing. This is no easy task; more than double the amount of rock carved from Rushmore has already been blasted off the rock face. And this sculpture is massive: Rushmore’s four presidential faces would fit on the side of Crazy Horse’s head. The sculpture stands 563 feet tall and 641 long, and it’s a sculpture in the round…not just against the mountain face.

It has become a family dream, if not obsession, and witness to what one can do with little more than tenacity. Today the visitor center includes a large museum, Native American crafts center, gift shop and eatery. Once the monument itself is finished, the family plans to create a bigger museum and university and medical training center for Native Americans.

Says Ruth: “You’ve got to have faith.’’


Photos: Top, the sculptor's model, 1/34 the size of the real thing, with the mountain in the background. Above, tour guide Don Gifford stands atop the arm, the finished face behind.


Curryshores1 said...

I was in the Black Hills in late June. Absolutely stunning. Custer State Park, Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse. There was a small rodeo at Crazy Horse. I hope you get to attend one before the end of the trip.

Still lovin' this!!!

sara herald said...

Crazy Horse was amazing. When in Yellowstone check out the Paint Pots a short walk just north of Old Faithful and the West Geyser Basin walk has a number of very reliable glaciers that you can get much closer to. Have a great time.