Saturday, January 17, 2015


As the name implies, Rapid City was built on the banks of a swiftly flowing river. Like all of South Dakota, the original Lakota inhabitants were pushed out when gold was discovered in the nearby Black Hills.With a population of just over 70,000, Rapid City is about the same size as the city where I live in Southern California, but where my town is just a village by California standards, Rapid City is the second largest city in South Dakota.
Rapid City feels much more like the farming community of 4,500 people that I grew up in than the city I live in now.
I never would have pegged Rapid City as an artsy place. Heck, I would never have linked anywhere in South Dakota with art. Our recent visit showed me that I was wrong about a lot of things regarding South Dakota.

Our first encounter with Rapid City's art was this beautiful bronze statue of a Native American woman braiding her granddaughter's hair:
Across the street is a complex sculpture by Dale Claude Lamphere named Mitakuye Oyasin, the Lakota words for "We Are All Related."
Down the street is The Presidents Information Center, a mini museum and a guide to more statuary that graces Rapid City's street corners:
Rapid City's nickname is "The City of Presidents," not because United States Presidents were born or lived there, but because there are life-sized bronze statues of all of our past Presidents in a twelve-block area of downtown. The project began in 2000 with the unveiling of George Washington, John Adams, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush, and four statues were added each year after that, two from the past and two from more recent times. There have been five sculptors, all native South Dakotans, and the costs of about $50,000 per statue have been covered by private funds. The statues are placed in a seemingly random order, but care has been taken not to show political favoritism.

The Information Center includes small models of each of the 42 statues:
(Obama is #44, but Grover Cleveland was #22 and #24 and he only gets one statue. Apparently there is a law that a statue can not be made of a sitting President, so Obama will have to wait a couple of years for his.)
Each statue attempts to capture something significant about the President's personality or his life. We didn't have time to see all of them, but I've included a sampling of those we did see.  If you want to see all of them, check out this site, which has them in chronological order.

James Monroe (#5) on the left and Thomas Jefferson (#3) on the right:
Bill Clinton (#42) on the left and Gerald Ford (#38) on the right:
Little James Madison (#4) was the shortest President at only 5'4", and his statue looks very small in comparison to Lyndon B. Johnson (#36), the second tallest President behind Lincoln.

All in all, it is a very impressive tribute to the men who have led our country. Rapid City strikes me as a pretty patriotic place.

My favorite place in the city, however, is a couple of blocks of graffiti-covered wall known as "Art Alley."

Like the Lennon Wall in Prague, Czech Republic, the art on this wall is ephemeral, constantly being replaced by new images and themes:
I am guessing that many if not all of the images I saw and photographed in Art Alley have since been covered by new layers of paint and paper.
 New stories have been painted over old ones:
 New hearts have been broken:
 I especially love the "Miss u Mom" note with the broken heart and the cancer ribbon symbol for the "o."  A few well-chosen details tell a big story, don't they?

A final artwork is this bronze in front of the Rapid City Airport entitled Sioux-per Boy. The life-sized boy has long braids and carries a Native American bustle in his right hand while flying a toy airplane with his left.
According to the artist, Matthew Lanz, "The boy in this piece is about 10 to 12 years old, and has never been told he can't. He bridges the gap between the powwow culture and Western culture. He lives in both worlds. Siouxper Boy--he can do anything, and go anywhere."

He is a good symbol for a very interesting state.

When poet Kathleen Norris inherited her grandparents' farm in Lemmon, South Dakota, she moved there from New York City and discovered that "the spirit of the land  . . . is not an abstraction but a real presence," and the plains have "an unfathomable silence that has the power to re-form you." In Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, Norris discusses her re-formation in South Dakota, as well as the state's problems--resistance to change, insular thinking, environmental and economic problems--and its strengths--primal beauty, the stories of its people, religious power, and a strong sense of hospitality (but not of acceptance). 
 I started reading Dakota on the plane, and I kept reading throughout the trip, finishing just before we got home. Norris's thoughtful insights provided a wonderful backdrop for our travel.

Here are a few of my favorite passages:

A person is forced inward by the spareness of what is outward and visible in all this land and sky. St. Hilary, a fourth-century bishop . . . once wrote, "Everything that seems empty is full of the angels of God."

I also began, slowly, to make sense of our gathering together on Sunday morning, recognizing, however dimly, that church is to be participated in and not consumed. The point is not what one gets out of it, but the worship of God; the service takes place both because of and despite the needs, strengths, and frailties of the people present.

[There are] two versions of heaven I once heard from a Benedictine nun: in one, heaven is full of people you love, and in the other, heaven is where you love everyone who is there.

Maybe the desert wisdom of the Dakotas can teach us to love . . . what is dying, in the face of death, and not pretend that things are other than they are. The irony and wonder of all this is that it is the desert's grimness, its stillness and isolation, that bring us back to love. Here we discover the paradox of the contemplative life, that the desert of solitude can be the school where we learn to love others. . . . [T]he desert of deprivation and solitude has always been the well-spring of self-giving love.

Communal worship is something I need; . . . it is an experience, not a philosophy or even theology. . . . At its Latin root, the word religion is linked to the words ligature and ligament, words having both negative and positive connotations, offering both bondage and freedom of movement. For me, religion is the ligament that connects me to my grandmothers, who, representing so clearly the negative and positive aspects of the Christian tradition, made it impossible for me either to reject or accept the religion wholesale.

Antelope are like grace notes on the land: small and quick and bold.

I suspect that monastic life is like marriage in that only those on the inside know what's going on.

[I]t is in choosing the stability of . . . places where nothing ever happens, places the world calls dull, that we discover that we can change. In choosing a bare-bones existence, we are enriched, and can redefine success as an internal process rather than an outward display of wealth and power.


  1. Love the post. Fun to see the place through your very curious and watchful eyes.

  2. South Dakota is full of hidden gems. I've been surprised and impressed with all of the art in the downtown area.
    I love those passages from the book.