Giant Face-off

Which attraction will draw you? The familiar Mount Rushmore or the Crazy Horse Memorial?

January 27, 2008|By Christopher Reynolds | Christopher Reynolds,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BLACK HILLS, S.D. -- Borglum or Ziolkowski?

Within a day of arrival in the Black Hills of South Dakota, you'll run into this question, probably somewhere along U.S. 16 as you roll between two of the largest sculpted mountains on Earth.

Gutzon Borglum's Mount Rushmore, of course, is your old friend from elementary school, and you think you know it well. Begun in 1927. Completed in 1941. Scrambled upon by Cary Grant in 1959's North by Northwest and, more recently, Nicolas Cage in National Treasure: Book of Secrets.

But all that supposed familiarity might crumble once you see the morning light at play on Washington and Jefferson's noble noses, the volume of Teddy Roosevelt's mustache and the sunken gravitas of Lincoln's cheeks, not to mention his famous mole, which, at this scale, is about the size of a basketball hoop.

It makes a startling difference, seeing a sculpture in three dimensions after you've gotten to know it in two - especially when that sculpture tops a 450-foot mountain.

And it might be just as startling to learn that the man who made it spent most of his 50s as a mover and shaker in the Ku Klux Klan.

Now, while that sinks in, let me redirect your attention to a 600-foot mountain that stands 17 driving miles southwest of those faces on Rushmore. As you draw nearer to this mountain, you'll see that it has a face - a face nine stories high.

This sculpture, begun not quite 60 years ago by sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski (pronounced jewel-CUFF-ski) at the invitation of a Lakota (Sioux) chief, shows the warrior Crazy Horse on horseback, pointing southeast to the lands where many of his people lie buried. The Crazy Horse Memorial is far larger than Mount Rushmore, yet at the insistence of the sculptor, no government money has been spent on it. No big Indian casino money either, so far.

The sculptor has been dead for nearly 25 years, and the project is still far from completion. And we'll never know whether it's a good likeness. No known photograph of Crazy Horse exists, so the artist aimed for a symbolic portrait, not a literal one.

"Aha!" you say. "So, is it really necessary to see Rushmore and Crazy Horse?"

Of course it is.

Christopher Reynolds writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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