Face to face with Crazy Horse

by Brian Jewell 22. September 2011 01:09

Standing near the top of a 582-foot mountain carving, I enjoyed a view that few people ever get.

Most travelers to the Black Hills of South Dakota make time to visit Mount Rushmore, the famous mountain carving depicting the faces of four American presidents. Not far away, though, another mountain carving project is underway — at Crazy Horse memorial, a dedicated family has been working on a giant sculpture of Lakota Sioux chief Crazy Horse since 1947. As a journalist, I got a special trip to the top of the mountain, where I came face to face with the large granite head of Crazy Horse, and walked out along his arm to a breathtaking view of a Black Hills valley below.

Korczak Ziolkowski began carving this mountain more than 60 years ago, at the inviation of Lakota tribal elders, in order to memorialize the Native American traditions of the area. Since then, Korczak married his wife Ruth, had a gaggle of children, and passed away. Ruth and most of the children continue the slow work of mountain carving, now using controlled dynamite blasts to slowly chip away at the mountain. Today, Crazy Horse's face is finished, and his hand and oustretched arm are beginning to take shape. Someday, when the entire sculpture is finished, the mountain will depict the cheif from the waist up, mounted on horseback, with his hand pointing to the land "where my dead lie buried."

The memorial is a labor of love for the Ziolkowski family, who work on donations and have never taken a dollar of government funding. Though there's no telling how long it will take to finish the sculpture (the pace of the work depends soley on funding), the fact that the project has continued for so long is tribute in itself, both to the legacy of the Native Americans in South Dakota and to the family's embrace of their patriarch's passionate project.

Though the actual sculpture is a work in progress, there is still plenty for groups to do at the visitor center, which sits about a mile away from the mountain. An introductory video gives an overview of the project, and museums and galleries on the premises showcase some of the best Native American arts and crafts from around the area.

Pay a visit to the Crazy Horse Memorial, and you can't help but to be moved by the honor of the Lakota people and the determination of the Ziolkowski family... even if you don't get a special opportunity to stand on the mountain itself.


The Crazy Horse Memorial slowly takes shape about a mile away from the visitors center.

A small model of Korczak's vision at the visitors center shows what the mountain scultupre will look like when finsihed.

Posing for picture at the end of the outstretched arm.

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The Soul of South Dakota

Trading at the Prairie's Edge

by Brian Jewell 20. September 2011 01:26

I once heard someone describe Rapid City, SD as "the place where the mountains meet the prairie." There's more to this place than the intersection of the Black Hills and the Great Plains, though — I'm finding that this region is also squarely in the middle of pioneer and Native American culture.

One of the best places to discover Native American heritage in Rapid City is Prairie Edge Trading Company and Galleries. Located in a historic building in the heart of downtown, this company preserves the tradition of the Indian trading post, while also presenting breathtaking fine art that communicates the Native American spirit.

When I first entered, the establishment seemed like a simple western-themed gift shop. But after exploring for a few minutes, I discovered the trading post area, where artists and others can still buy traditional materials such as buffalo hides, deer antlers, feathers and glass beads. Many area artisans come here to get their supplies for their fine art and tradition Indian crafts, many of which can be seen in the store's galleries.

Around the corner from the gift shop area, a large room holds hundreds of pieces of traditional Indian art, much of which featured intricate bead patterns and quillwork. Items range from dream catchers to spirit shirts, decorated bison skulls and woodcarvings. All of the artwork in the store is hand-made, much of it by artists who use traditional materials and techniques.

On a mezzanine overlooking this room, Prairie Edge displays what they bill as the world's largest collection of glass trading beads. Hundreds of jars of beads line the shelves of this exhibit, organized by color and glimmering like a glass rainbow beneath the display lights.

For me, the highlihgt of Praire's Edge was the fine art gallery on the top floor. This area features incredible museum-quality artwork depicting Native American themes and other images of the mountain Northwest. I was fascinated by a large, three-dimensional dioramama made entirely of sculpted paper; I also fell in love with ledger art, a style of painting taken up by tribesmen who used old business ledgers as a canvas once buffalo hides became scarce. The bold and colorful images seemed to leap off the page, contrasting against the straight lines and careful script of the ledgers. Like the rest of Prairie Edge and much of South Dakota, the artwork embodied the intermingling of white culture and Native American heritage.


Hand-made buffalo robe art featuring Native American materials and patterns.

Some of the thousands of glass trading beads on display at Prairie Edge.

An array of specialty beads prized by Indian artists.



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