Saturday, May 13, 2017

Crazy Horse

Coming across the Black Hills of South Dakota, you might see views like these mountains.

And you might come around the corner and see the sculpture of Crazy Horse, the largest sculpture in the world.  A lot of people have never even heard of this sculpture.  Begun in 1948 by Korczak Ziolkowski, the sculpture was commissioned by Lakota Indian Elders after Mt. Rushmore was completed to "show that the red men have heores, too".  Korczak learned mountain carving while working with Gutzon Borglum, sculptor of Mt. Rushmore.

The Crazy Horse carving will be about 641 feet wide and 563 feet high.  To give you an idea of the size, the carvings of the presidents at Mt. Rushmore will fit into the head area of the Crazy Horse Monument.  In the picture below, you can just see two huge excavators in front of Crazy Horse's chin for scale.

Here's a "small-scale" carving to show the goal, me, and in the background, the mountain carving itself.

It's slow going, carving a mountain.  Here's what it looked like when Korczak started.

This picture is especially meaningful, since Karin and I first visited the Crazy Horse monument in 1987.

Here's 11 years later, after the face was completed.

It takes a lot of vision to make something like this.

To give you an idea of scale - working on an eye.

And the face...

And a message from Korczak to his children, many of which have taken up the task after Korczak died.


Now, here's the part that really struck me.  The monument is run by a non-profit foundation which has never accepted public funding, and there are several goals.  The carving is one, but two other equally important ones are creating a national museum of Native American History, and to create a university and educational facility for Native Americans.  The museum was exceptionally well done, and honestly, it was quite a pleasure to see the amazing collection of historical and contemporary art and artifacts. We talked with one of the (native American) staffers at one of the exhibits, his pride and knowledge were obvious.

Contrast that with our usual experience travelling around the country on this trip.  First you see signs that you're entering an Indian Reservation, next you see ads for the casino.  It pretty much never failed.  If you're in a reservation, more often than not there will be a casino, and a place to buy cheap liquor, cigarettes, and gasoline tax-free. If this seems like a gross generalization to you, try it.  Drive around the country and see if you find different.  It's disheartening

In the April 29th issue of the Economist, they did a piece on alcoholism in the Pine Ridge Indian reservation of South Dakota.  These people are the remnants of Crazy Horse's proud tribe, the Oglala Lakota Sioux.  The article says that "two-thirds of adults on the reservation are alcoholics; alcohol-fueled domestic violence is rampant; and one in four babies born on the reservation is irreversibly damaged by fetal-alcohol syndrome, a range of neurological defects caused by mothers drinking alcohol during pregnancy."  To try to control this, alcohol sales on the reservation were banned.

This resulted in the Lakota Sioux walking across the reservation boundary to the nearby town of Whiteclay, Nebraska, "a tiny hamlet of 11 residents just a short walk away across the state line in Nebraska.  Whiteclay, which has no school and no grocery shop, seems to exist solely to sell booze."  The article says that last year, the four liquor stores in the 11 person town sold 3.6 million cans of beer.  Here are some other statistics: "More than half-perhaps 80%- of its adults are unemployed.  About half live below the federal poverty line.  Almost one-third are homeless.  Men die, on average, at 47 and women at 55.  (compare this to the US average of 76 men, 81 women) Almost half the population older than 40 is diabetic.  In infant mortality rate is triple the national average, the suicide rate of teenagers is more than double and obesity is an even bigger problem than in the rest of the Midwest."

They had a very nice exhibit of prints by Edward Curtis, a photographer that managed to be in the right place at the last instant - the tiny intersection of after cameras were invented and before the world changed.  He spent his career recording images of the west - while it was still what we think of as "the west."  His images of Native Americans capture the lost spirit of the people, and maybe show some of the sorrow associated with the inevitability of the future.  I wish my photographs of the prints were a little easier to see - sorry.

I like this one, because it reminds me of my own Grandma, who descended from the Cherokee.

And this one, because it shows pride.

And tenderness.

And love.

And sorrow.

If you go a little further through the Black Hills...

You'll come to Mount Rushmore.  I want to say something nice about this, but honestly, I hate it.  The whole area around Mount Rushmore is one of the most touristy places we went on our whole trip around the country.  Simply put, it is awful. They have built a parking garage adjacent to the monument.  It was like going to the airport.  There's a huge gift shop filled with cheap, imported plastic crap to sell to tourists.

This sculpture was designed and created by Gutzon Borglum.  The monument was never completed, with work stopping in 1941 when Borglum died.  There's supposed to be the rest of the busts of the presidents down below the heads.  Contrast that to the Crazy Horse monument, where work goes on.  It's hard for me to come to grips of spending your life working on something, as Korczak did, well knowing that you will never see it finished.

None-the-less, Mt. Rushmore is one of the three classic US parks you need to see, alongside Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon.  There it is.  We saw it, again.

Crazy Horse left me a little bit uplifted, in a lot of ways, and I highly recommend going to see it.

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