On a trip during the summer of 2015 to South Dakota I visited the Crazy Horse Memorial, which has been under construction since 1948 and Mt. Rushmore National Monument. Gutzon Borglum’s Mt. Rushmore was financed by the Federal Government and thus had sufficient monetary backing to progress rather quickly with a large staff of workers and ample equipment to work with. Crazy Horse was commissioned by the Sioux Nations for all Native Americans, but was privately funded and still is. Work on the monument was initially started with a crew of one, the sculptor himself, Korczak Ziolkowski. The projected size of this monument dwarfs Rushmore which could fit itself in the space occupied by Crazy Horse’s head alone. Construction is ongoing and the monument, now about 70 years from its beginning, is far from finished. Crazy Horse’s face was unveiled and dedicated in 1998, fifty years after construction commenced and about 16 years after the sculptor died. Construction continues, carried out by his sons and daughters who are as dedicated to the project as their father and mother were.
Neither of these monuments has anything small about them, nor were the men behind them. The sculptors both spent their lives dedicated to their projects and neither was without an ego nor lacked self-confidence. This is the work of large egos and supreme self-confidence. It is also the work of passion and dreams. Neither of these monuments would have started without these aspects, and while they are indeed monuments to the heroes they depict, they are also monuments to dreams and the creative human spirit. They are monuments to the long game that encompasses human existence and indomitable spirit and will. The men who envisioned and then created these immense sculptures were not afraid to attempt the impossible, nor were they willing to entertain the possibility of defeat or failure. They took on the projects and gave everything of themselves to see them through. As an individual who has been involved in the creative arts through writing and music through much of my life, I find these monuments and the men behind them to be points for self-reflection and self-evaluation, as well as definitive sources for inspiration.
Most people would view an undertaking such as the one that Korczak Ziolkowski started when he commenced work on Crazy Horse as one of insanity, particularly when noting the size of what was planned and the fact that he was initially the only crew member at the start of the project. The amount of hope and self confidence this presents truly boggles my mind, but I am convinced that he wasn’t a madman, nor a megalomaniac. He was a man with vision who was fully committed to his art and his means of creative expression. He believed in dreaming and pursuing his dreams as a life long process, not simply for the short term. He was also dedicated to encouraging others to follow their dreams as well, and the bigger the dream, the better. One could find ample inspiration in Borglum’s Rushmore, but Ziolkowski went bigger and further, pushing through self-reliance into an even larger than life existence.
When I am confronted with a creative human being such as Ziolkowski, and the obstacles he faced, and his work still faces long after his death, I must take stock of my own day-to-day existence in regards to my creative work. I feel small in comparison, because in comparison it’s as if I fear dreaming, and fear pursuing the small dreams that I do latch onto. I think most of us start out our existences with huge dreams, and welcome these huge dreams. Somewhere along the way we allow these dreams to be beaten down or simply leave them along the road of our existence, losing our vision of large lives and instead opting for the lower arc for whatever reason. I know that I for one miss the passion of my younger days and dreaming on the large scale. At that point life seemed an endless source of possibilities that were only limited by how far I chose to reach. Our lives come with individual issues, roadblocks, distractions and dead ends. Mine certainly has, and I have often permitted these to derail my own personal visions for my life and in particular my creative pursuits.
The truth of the matter is that it is never too late in our creative lives to ignite passions until we have passed out of existence. Until that point we should dedicate ourselves to kindling our passions, whether they are part of our creative lives or any other aspects of our lives. We must find our purposes, our whys for existing, and dedicate ourselves to nurturing them and pursuing them to the best of our abilities. This is our responsibility and creative duty as occupants of time and space. Not all of us were meant to blast 450,000 tons of rock off the face of a mountain in search of the Presidents’ faces lurking within, but all of us were meant to do something and to dedicate ourselves to the creation and pursuit of our own particular passionate creative dreams. Individuals such as Gutzon Borglum and Korczak Ziolkowski should serve as reminders that while there are obstacles in our creative paths, as well as in every aspect of our lives, none should stop us from achieving our creative goals, and the path in pursuit of these goals is as worthy as the goal in and of itself.