Korcazk Ziolkowski (1908 – 1982)

1939 was a pivotal year in the life of the young sculptor. His marble portrait, PADEREWSKI, Study of an Immortal, won first prize at the New York World’s Fair. Korczak was also asked to assist Gutzon Borglum at the colossal carving occurring at Mt. Rushmore. The two sculptors became close friends during the summer of 1939, but Korczak left the project after an argument with Borglum’s son Lincoln.

That summer in the Black Hills lead to another project for the sculptor. Sioux Indian Chief Henry Standing Bear wrote to Ziolkowski and asked him to carve a monument in the mountains of the Black Hills. Standing Bear “wanted the white man to know that the Indians had great heroes, too.”

Korczak went back to Connecticut and spent two years carving his 13 1/2-foot statue of Noah Webster as a gift to the city of West Hartford. During that time, he met Ruth Ross, one of the volunteers who helped on the project. Upon the outbreak of World War II, he volunteered for service, eventually was part of the force that landed on Omaha Beach, and was later wounded and honored for his service. He often thought about the far-off mountains of South Dakota.

He was invited to participate in the carving of government war memorials in Europe after the end of hostilities, but decided instead to accept the Indians’ invitation to tell the story of Crazy Horse in the Black Hills granite in 1947. Korczak looked at the mountain for five days and nights before he decided to carve the entire mountain rather than the top 100 feet as first planned. The vision had grown. After all, he said, “I had nowhere to go.”

Korczak saw Crazy Horse as a symbol and tribute to all North American Indians. The vision included a memorial in the round, the largest sculpture ever undertaken; a Native American medical center; the University of North America for Native Americans; and a Native American cultural center. Korczak’s purpose was to give the Native Americans “a little bit of pride and to try to right a little bit of the wrong . . . they did to these people.”

Korczak would spend the rest of his life carving his dream. The first winter he lived in a tent while he built a studio-home and a 741-step staircase to the top of the mountain. After three years of solitude, Ruth Ross returned to Korczak’s life. The couple was married on Thanksgiving Day of 1950, and they eventually became the parents of ten children.

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