Ziolkowski: The man behind Crazy Horse Memorial
The South Dakota Office of Tourism puts out a weekly press release series called "Great Faces." The title plays off the state’s tourism motto, "Great Faces, Great Places," which is a not to the faces on Mount Rushmore.
This week, the release is about Korczak Ziolkowski, the man who began the carving project at Crazy Horse Memorial in the Black Hills:
Ziolkowski was born to Polish immigrants, and after the untimely death of his parents was orphaned at the age of 1. After growing up in foster homes, he struck out on his own at 16 to work in shipyards, which is where he gained inspiration for a career in woodcarving. Though he never took a formal art lesson, he educated himself and eventually won first prize at the New York World’s Fair for his marble portrait of Polish composer and patriot Paderewski.
In 1939, Korczak also worked briefly at Mount Rushmore National Memorial. That is how Chief Standing Bear came to know of Ziolkowski.
Chief Standing Bear extended a written invitation to Ziolkowski in 1939 to help develop a memorial to the spirit of the Sioux Nation and its great leader Crazy Horse. After serving in World War II, Ziolkowski accepted the invitation and returned to the Black Hills. He was 40 years old, had only $174 to his name at the time, and lived in a tent in the wilderness during the first seven months he worked on the Crazy Horse Memorial.
The first blast, which removed 10 tons of rock, took place on June 3, 1948, the day of the Memorial’s dedication. The monument will be 563 feet high and 641 feet long when finished.
Although Ziolkowski died in 1982, his family and the nonprofit Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation are on a mission to make his dream reality. The three major goals are to complete the mountain carving, which is the world’s largest sculptural undertaking; honor the American Indian heritage and living culture with exhibits and programs at the on-site Indian Museum of North America; and complete the Indian University of North America and its medical training center. The first on-site university classes were held in 2010 at the new University Student Living and Learning Center.