21 June 2020

Dignity: The Statue America Needs Right Now

Ask anyone to name a famous American statue and the chances are they will reply with the Statue of Liberty.  A symbol of global enlightenment representing the freedom to live a life unhampered by oppression there was and still is irony there for those peoples who did not fall in to the innate and historical Euro-centricity of Lady Liberty’s promise.  So perhaps this monument in South Dakota will do something to redress this balance, at least in terms of statuary.

Image Credit
Dignity – for that is her name – stands on a bluff near the Missouri River, arms outstretched and holding a star-quilted blanket, offering shelter to one and all who might seek her protection.  She is 50-feet high and is made from stainless steel – supported by a huge steel rod in her interior to protect her from the high winds which often whistle across the plains.

Image Credit Wikimedia

Image Credit Dakotas Conference UMC
She was created by artist Dale Lamphere, who has been South Dakota’s Artist Laureate since 2015. He received the commission from a local couple.  Eunabel and Norm McKie of Rapid City wanted to create something to commemorate the 125th anniversary of South Dakota’s statehood but they also wanted something which would celebrate the determination, wisdom and bravery of the state’s indigenous peoples, the cultural inheritance of the Lakota and Dakota.   The couple gave over a million dollars to support the project.

Image Credit Keith Lehr
And what a project.  One that is visible, night and day.

Image Credit Sandy Slaymaker
In the 1850s indigenous women wore two-hide dresses and this was the apparel chosen for her by the artist and his team.  Dignity or her immediate ancestors had seen the quilts of European settlers and had adapted and evolved the form, creating the star-quilt, their own unique take on this process of sewing using designs that had been featured on Native American attire and other items for centuries.

Image Credit Dakotas Conference UMC
There are over one hundred and twenty eight diamonds on Dignity’s quilt.  As another concession to the wind, it is allowed to move through the gaps between the four-foot diamonds as well as the lines of her two-hide dress.  The pieces change color and move gently with the wind. The statue is also back-lit so that at night she can still be seen, resplendently radiating light as she stands over the South Dakotan plains.

Image Credit
South Dakota is, of course, home to both Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse memorial so perhaps Dignity has some way to go before she reaches a renown similar to the state’s two most famous monuments. Yet she celebrates something different from her South Dakotan companions.

Dignity Celebration
Previous 2 images South Dakota Public Broadcasing
When she was unveiled last year, State Senator Troy Heinert, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe said of Dignity: "I believe that she was sent here to open our hearts and our minds. Her outstretched arms are inviting us into her blanket where we can learn from each other, acknowledge our differences and celebrate our similarities."

Image Credit Fr Tony Grossenburg
Just possibly, it is not simply the age of pulling down statues, but also of erecting them. As the USA begins a period of self-reflection after the events in Charlottesville and the toppling of the Confederate Soldiers Monument in Durham, perhaps she is the statue America needs right now.

Image Credit masidon on Reddit
Dignity is located between exits 263 and 265 on Interstate 90 near Chamberlain. 

First Image Credit Wikimedia