Robert Eagle Elk with Grandson Loki and Artist David Smith
Dallas artist meets family of famed Lakota warrior that inspired his award-winning painting
SMU student, retired military veteran Dave Smith artwork honored; Eagle Elk family attends unveiling
GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas – What began as a simple piece of artwork for Airbus Helicopters Inc. blossomed into a gratifying and unexpected opportunity for a Dallas-area artist as he met descendants of the iconic Lakota warrior Eagle Elk portrayed in his painting.
In March 2016 Airbus Helicopters Inc., which produces the UH-72A Lakota helicopter for the U.S. Army, began searching for an artist to create a work that would capture the spirit and history of the Lakota. The search ended with retired Army and Coast Guard helicopter pilot Dave Smith, currently an art student at Southern Methodist University. Dave painted an inspiring work featuring a towering image of the famous Lakota warrior named Eagle Elk. The Eagle Elk family not only approved the painting, but was so appreciative of the honor that they travelled from their home in South Dakota to meet Smith at a special ceremony held in Sept. 16, 2016, at Airbus Helicopters Inc. headquarters in Grand Prairie.
Eagle Elk was born near the confluence of White River and Missouri rivers in the fall of 1851. He was a great and fierce warrior who participated in many battles. From the family’s oral history, as well as the Eagle Elk interviews written by Richard Hardorff contained in the John G. Neihardt Collection, Eagle Elk was a close aide and bodyguard to Crazy Horse and considered him a brother.
“I did a fair amount of research for this painting,” said Smith. “The warrior culture associated with the military is drawn to the names and images of Native American culture because of their greatness as warriors. The basis for my painting is the famous Edward S. Curtis image of Eagle Elk (He’haka Wanbli) of the Oglala Lakota. I made every effort to be culturally sensitive by showing that Eagle Elk ‘becomes’ the sky and the mountain and the earth, watching over what is happening as the helicopter skims the treetops.”
Airbus Helicopters Inc. consulted with the Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribal Council to ensure the painting was culturally accurate and respectful. Tribal council leaders, in turn, referred the company to the family of Eagle Elk, who were impressed with and approved the use of Smith’s painting. Family members, including Eagle Elk’s grandson, Robert Eagle Elk, and great-granddaughter, Charleen Eagle Elk, travelled from South Dakota to meet Smith and attend the Airbus Helicopters ceremony.
“We wanted to create a symbol that would capture the historic legacy of the Lakota people that inspired the name the Army gave our helicopter,” said Chris Emerson, president of Airbus Helicopters Inc. “We are impressed with the way Smith has depicted the Lakota helicopter overseen by the soaring image of Eagle Elk. We are deeply honored to have the Eagle Elk family join us as we honor their ancestor and the way he is artistically portrayed.”
The ceremony included a reading of a family story handed down through the generations about Eagle Elk and Crazy Horse. “This is an honor for our family. We are all deeply touched,” said Charleen Eagle Elk. “I would like to say Lila Wopila Tanka (A Big Thank You) from the bottom of all of our hearts for this great honor bestowed upon our family. We appreciate the recognition for our ancestor.”
The UH-72A Lakota is a multi-mission helicopter that was selected by the U.S. Army in June 2006 in an open competition following a rigorous evaluation. The UH-72A Lakota is in use with Army and National Guard units and is also the Army’s primary flight training helicopter. It is in use with foreign military services for missions such as transport, medical evacuation, and search and rescue.
The Lakota combines operational capability, reliability, and affordability, fulfilling all of the Army’s requirements for speed, range, endurance and overall performance. The Lakota has the lowest cost to buy, own and operate of any U.S. military helicopter in production. It is built in Columbus, Miss., by a workforce that is 43 percent U.S. military veterans.
For more information on the UH-72A Lakota, as well as other industry leading Airbus Helicopters Inc. products, go to airbushelicoptersinc.com
About Airbus Helicopters Inc.
Airbus Helicopters, Inc. is the U.S. affiliate of Airbus Helicopters, the largest helicopter manufacturer in the world, and a subsidiary of the Airbus Group. Airbus Helicopters, Inc. manufactures H125 and UH-72A helicopters and markets, sells and supports the broadest range of civil and parapublic helicopters offered in the U.S. The product line represents the industry’s most cost-effective, technologically advanced helicopters serving all markets and missions. The company’s headquarters and main facility are in Grand Prairie, Texas, with a large manufacturing and production facility in Columbus, Miss. For more information, visit www.airbushelicoptersinc.com
About Dave Smith
David Gail Smith retired as a Lieutenant Commander in 2014 having served nearly 22 years as a pilot in the U.S. Army and Coast Guard. During his tenure in the Coast Guard, he is credited with saving 20 lives and assisting 52 others with awards including the Meritorious Service Medal, the Air Medal, and the Korean Defense Service Medal. He is currently pursuing two degrees at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, which he began immediately following his retirement, and is on course to receive a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Computing in December 2016 along with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Studio Art in May 2017. For more information and examples of Smith’s work, visit www.davidgailsmith.com