Monday, February 05, 2018

A Story in Stone

My lands are where my dead lie buried. 

~ Crazy Horse, Oglala Lakota chief

Let's take a break, shall we, from the frantic, partisan hyperventilation of Washington DC politicians and their media minions. There's so much else to see, do, enjoy, and experience in our country. Take, for example, Crazy Horse Memorial in South Dakota.

I was there once, as a young woman, and it made an impression upon me as deep and permanent as the rock carvings that have now revealed the great chief's face in the mountainside. The sculpture is a monumental undertaking, begun in 1948 and continuing today until who knows when.

In 1977, there wasn't too much to see.
Nearly eighty years ago, Chief Henry Standing Bear, of Crazy Horse's Oglala Lakota tribe, commissioned Polish-American sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski to build the Crazy Horse Memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  "My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes, too," Standing Bear informed Ziolkowski, who had worked on Mount Rushmore. Although the federal government offered grant money, Standing Bear chose not to accept any funds from the U.S.A. To this day, the memorial is non-profit and receives no state or federal funding.

Of course, this wouldn't be modern day America without controversy. Although the project was started at the specific request of an Oglala Lakota chief, ironically enough many Native American organizations today vigorously oppose the memorial, claiming it is a "pollution" upon the land. To me, these protests fall into the category of "no good deed goes unpunished."

I can remember the chills I felt from head to toe as I looked at the gleaming white model, then  beyond to the rough-hewn edges of the massive rocky peak towering above. The crews were working on that long-ago day, and the muffled thunder of explosions echoed down the mountainside. I thought of Michelangelo, who could look at a chunk of marble and visualize the figure within, awaiting the artist's hand to set it free. I also remember hoping that I would live to see the memorial finished, in all its majestic power.

If and when it is completed, Crazy Horse Memorial will be the largest sculpture in the world. It will take decades more to finish; I won't live to see it completed. Even so, I would like to see it one more time. I want to stand again, encircled by the pure splendor of the Black Hills, in the shadow of the mountain that honors a great Native American leader as his image bursts proudly through the rock.

By 2017, Crazy Horse's face had emerged from the mountain.