Carving Crazy Horse Memorial: 1955-1962
As the political back and forth continued over Sitting Bull’s bones and the Memorial that Korczak carved as the result of his promise to Sitting Bull’s granddaughter, Nancy Kicking Bear, the sculptor quietly turned his attention once again to carving Crazy Horse Memorial. During the years between 1955 and 1962, the sculptor built roads, acquired new equipment, and continued work on the mountain. Also, during these years, Korczak continued work on the visitor’s complex and faced some serious injuries and physical setbacks.
In 1956, Korczak made the initial cut in front of Crazy Horse’s face down to the chin area. In that same year, Korczak worked all winter on designing and building the very first road to ascend up the back of Thunderhead Mountain. The road climbed all the way to the top of the mountain and allowed the sculptor to move his recently-purchased Buda compressor up the mountain. Not only did relocating equipment make work more efficient, it also allowed for more power to the sculptor’s jackhammer and wheel-mounted drill due to the fact that he was working with a shorter air line.
During 1957-58, Korczak designed, constructed, and graveled the Avenue of the Chiefs – a road that to this day, though now paved, serves as access to the Memorial directly from Highway 16-385. At the time, this gravel road provided visitors with a port of entry to the studio home. Also during this time, Korczak and Ruth, ever-tasked with providing for their growing family, built and began operating a lumber mill. By the turn of the decade, 1959-60, Korczak had the first dozer working on top of the mountain. This provided more rapid progress in clearing rock above the outstretched arm. As progress on the mountain increased, so did the danger. Subsequently, shortly after starting this phase of the carving, Korczak broke his right wrist and thumb. While this injury required the sculptor to modify his work in the short term, it in no way stopped him from working on the Crazy Horse project, and during 1961 and 1962, he built a sun room, a workshop, a roof over the visitor viewing porch, and a large garage and machine shop. He also drilled a new well for the studio home.
Broken bones would not be the only physical setback that the sculptor would face while working on the carving between 1955 and 1962. During the first two years of the 1960s, Korczak required a spinal operation. The procedure involved removal of two of his lower discs. Such a surgery would have sidelined many for a serious length of time, and even more would have used such a surgery as reason to plan a retirement, but Korczak was a man on a mission and had other plans . . .
This article is the fourteenth installment of a periodic chronology that will be published by the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation on the history of the Memorial.
By: Dr. Jason Murray for the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation