Ben Black Elk

I’m back to my boyhood again and my friendship with Ben Black Elk. Ben was a mentor to a number of us boys in Keystone, a small mining town in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Ben was the only Indian who posed for tourist’s photos at Mount Rushmore, which was just four miles up the hill.

Keystone was a gold rush town from the late 1870s and was sacred land to the Sioux.
I think we know how that piece of history was handled. I’m trying to remember the many things that Ben told me about the Sioux culture and the meanings, and spiritual purposes, of medicine bundles. The Sioux, and other tribes, considered these wrapped packages of symbols to be holy, and each keeper kept the contents of their bundle safe and secret.

Bundle #1

A bundle might include seeds, grass, animal teeth, claws, horsehair, rocks, crystals, tobacco, beads, arrowheads, bones, and anything symbolizing spiritual meaning,
good fortune, and hope, contained in a small wrapped package. Individuals, shamans, medicine men, and sometimes the whole community were involved in the accumulation of these symbols. Information about medicine bundles in the culture is available on the search engines.

Bundle #2

My paper sculpture bundles are based on the medicine bundle concept of a collection
of objects for my spiritual and nostalgic reasons. My bundles don’t hide the objects contained in them, all of my chosen elements burst out in an exuberant display of those objects and symbols that were an everyday part of my childhood.

Bundle #3

Old leather, feathers, horns, antlers, pine needles, grass, weaving, rust, arrowheads, antiques, and relics of the past, all with a feeling of texture, smell of age, use, and a
melting away of the past.

Bundle #4

When I build a bundle, it’s a spiritual event for me because I relive those days, and, like a missionary, I attempt to communicate the experience of my joy during those brief days of my youth. My palette is always comprised of warm colors with accents of cool hues that enhance the warmth. Rich, deep, heavily neutralized and textured color to involve the viewer in my recollections of a former time.

Ben's Shirt

Occasionally, I was in Ben’s small house, which was just across the creek from ours.
My limited memory of those times, nearly seventy years ago, is of the leather shirts, beaded, painted and fringed, a full headdress, feathers, beadwork, and other regalia
that were hanging on a wall.

I pushed on them, held them, smelled them, and heard rough rustling sounds, as I rubbed them on my face. I absorbed and experienced them with every sense and sensibility.
They are still with me, as strong as ever, at eighty.

Bundle #5

The following is verse 12 from, “Tao Te Ching”, A New Version For All Seekers”.
a translation by Guy Leekley, brilliant teacher and good friend.

Seeing the shadow
Around each color,
We honor our inner eye.

Hearing the silence
Around each sound,
We honor the inner ear.

Feeling the sacred
Around each moment,
We honor the inner heart.

Freed from grasping
In the material world,
True Seekers follow
Their inner light.

Freed from the bonds of delusion,
Their spirits soar.

Bundle #6

Thanks for visiting me…


Inquiries about the availability of my work can be made by emailing me at leothecolorman [at] gmail.com. Ben Black Elk and Bundle #5 are available as giclee prints.