Cubism, and racism, at Mount Rushmore

August 18, 2000. Cross-country road tour. A few miles south of Rapid City, South Dakota, stands Mount Rushmore. I had wondered what inspired the carving of these huge neo-classical faces into a mountain. And then I realized that the mountain had faces on it already, all of them far more interesting to my eye than the four presidents. Looked at as a line-up of ten faces, the piece takes on an evolution closer to Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.

Later I learned the tragic story behind Mt. Rushmore, a mountain sacred to the Lakota Sioux

The Six Grandfathers (Tȟuŋkášila Šákpe) was named by Lakota medicine man Nicolas Black Elk after a vision. “The vision was of the six sacred directions: west, east, north, south, above, and below. The directions were said to represent kindness and love, full of years and wisdom, like human grandfathers.” The granite bluff that towered above the Hills remained carved only by the wind and the rain until 1927 when [sculptor] Gutzon Borglum began his assault on the mountain.

Here’s how the sacred mountain looked before it was carved:

Here is a history of the Black Hills, from a Native American point of view.