The Biggest Pointer
June 3, 1948 - Today was the day that Korczak Ziolkowski began his colossal sculpture of Crazy Horse in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
Even though he never had any formal training, Ziolkowski always knew he wanted to be a sculptor. He apprenticed with a Boston shipbuilder and learned how to carve wood. In his twenties he started working with marble and became a well-known artist for hire. By the time he was thirty, he was working alongside Gutzon Borglum as they jackhammered the legendary faces into Mount Rushmore.
In 1939 a group of Lakota Indian chiefs met with Ziolkowski and proposed that he create a sculpture to honor the Native Americans. He also received a letter from Chief Henry Standing Bear that read, "My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know the red man has great heroes, too."
Ziolkowski agreed to the project, and he immediately started scouting locations for what would be the largest sculpture on earth. The subject would be the great Sioux warrior, Crazy Horse. He would hold one outstretched arm over his horse's head and point with his index finger to the Black Hills.
The story goes that the pose captures Crazy Horse as he defiantly answers a white man's question, "Where are your lands now?" To which Crazy Horse replies, "My lands are where my dead lie buried."
Ziolkowski insisted on not taking any government funding for the project, as he feared he would lose creative control. On two occasions the United States offered him $10 million dollars and both times he refused.
World War II delayed the start of the project as Ziolkowski joined the Army and was wounded at Normandy. By 1948, he was back in the Black Hills and ready to start carving Thunderhead Mountain.
The scale of the undertaking is awesome. The plans call for a finished sculpture that will be 641 feet wide and 563 feet tall. By comparison, each head on Mount Rushmore is approximately 60 feet tall. Crazy Horse's head will be 87 feet tall.
With limited resources and high expectations, progress has been slow. Ziolkowski died in 1982 and is buried in a tomb at the foot of his still unfinished masterpiece.
But Ziolkowski's vision is still alive. His wife and 7 of his 10 children are still working on the monument. Donations for the project come from the over one million tourists who visit the work site each year.
The giant project has its share of critics. Environmentalists complain about the destruction of the mountain. Many Native Americans claim that the planned sculpture is filled with cultural and historical inaccuracies, like the pointing gesture, which is considered unethical by Crazy Horse's tribe, the Oglala Sioux. Purists assert that if a Sioux warrior wanted to point at something, he'd use his entire hand or in some cases, his lips.
There's still time to adjust the design, as Crazy Horse's hand remains encased in tons of rock. Given the raw deal dealt to the American Indian, some have suggested that the most appropriate finger to stick out would be his middle one.