This is one of my earliest successful projects (see images below). The articles and videos below explain it best. While I was in art school, I was fortunate to find out about an art contest being held by Airbus Helicopter – the manufacturer of the helicopter I flew for 12 years in the US Coast Guard – and based in the Dallas Fort Worth metroplex. The contest was for the creation of an original illustration to honor the Lakota people as Airbus named the US Army’s newest helicopter after them (in keeping with Army tradition of honoring Native American warriors by naming their helicopters after them – Iroquois, Kiowa, Chinook, Blackhawk, and now Lakota). Because of my early affiliation with the Army, my many years of flying Airbus equipment, my decision to go to art school on my GI Bill, it was a seemed to be a pre-destined culmination of all of my experiences up to that time. And with my newfound honor of winning the contest, I was very humbly afforded a great opportunity – an invitation to the Badlands in South Dakota to the Pine Ridge Reservation to meet the family of Eagle Elk, the Lakota chief whose image I used as inspiration for the piece.
I did a lot of research, including a trip to the Library of Congress in Washington, DC to find the image of Eagle Elk and a photo-shoot of the helicopter at Airbus in Grand Prairie, Texas. The research was assembled into a digital composition that I later painted (see image below). The limited edition print was given to each purchaser of the Lakota helicopter. The first and last prints in the edition were given to the Eagle Elk family, and to me. I was later invited by the Eagle Elk family to visit them in South Dakota at Pine Ridge Reservation for their annual family reunion and pow-wow. There I presented Eagle Elks grandson with another original painting (also pictured below) of his grandfather based on another photo from the Library of Congress. This invitation was an honor and opportunity of a lifetime for me. I am so grateful to that family for inviting me and my family. And I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to proudly serve as an aviator in the US Army, the US Coast Guard, and to be affiliated with Airbus Helicopter and the Eagle Elk family.
Eagle Elk was the Lieutenant of Crazy Horse at the Battle of Little Big Horn. He was one of the greatest warriors of the Lakota people, who were nearly completely massacred by the US Army at Wounded Knee. I was honored to meet his grandson, and his grandson’s grandson, and much of his immediate living family at the unveiling ceremony held at Airbus helicopter in Grand Prairie, Texas. And I was especially honored to attend their family reunion with my family at Pine Ridge Reservation. As a fellow warrior, it was an honor to make this work in honor of Eagle Elk. And for some outside of “warrior culture”, this might be hard to understand completely because of the sordid history of this country. I would classify that behavior as an inability to place individual connections above stereotypes – a common trap to which so many people in our society and the world at large sadly succumb. Compassion is more difficult, but so much more important.
The image I painted is based on a historical photograph of Eagle Elk from the Library of Congress. Eagle Elk’s face becomes one with the mountain and his head-dress becomes one with the clouds. These are both symbolic of strength, a spiritual oneness with nature, and of the eternal spirit of all great and honorable warriors.
A Lakota helicopter skims the treetops in the nap of the earth – another symbol of honorable strength and the ancient warrior spirit in the modern age.
Airbus Press Release Video
Dallas Morning News
Southern Methodist University Daily Campus