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First-person accounts of life after graduation
Posting Date: June 24, 2011
Dustin Baker (Art, 2010)
Sculptor in Residence at Mount Rushmore
All photos courtesy of Nathan Moreno
My name is Dustin Baker, and I’m a park ranger for the National Park Service. I’m stationed at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, which is among the most visited National Parks in America. We receive 3.2 million visitors per summer season, and most of them will see me. This is because the original “Grand View Terrace,” and Gutzon Borglum’s former sculpture studio, is now my studio. Unlike other park rangers here, I have a second part to my job title. I am also the “Sculptor in Residence.” The first priority of my job is to protect the park and the people in it. The second part, however, is to use this studio to produce my own art so that millions of people can be exposed to sculpture. I am the only person at Mount Rushmore who has this job, and an extremely limited number of people hold this job title in the United States. I have the honor of being responsible for a studio that was used by Gutzon Borglum to sculpt the model for Mount Rushmore. The room where I keep my tools and material is the same room they stored a 70 foot flag from 1941-1998 that unveiled each new face. F.D.R. saw this flag pulled off of Thomas Jefferson’s portrait. I demonstrate stone carving and clay modeling, producing sculpture in alabaster stone and limestone.
The goal of interpretive rangers is to educate people about the park. There are a wide variety of parks in the U.S. because they are meant to protect unique aspects of our cultural and natural history. The National Park Service hires specialists to accommodate for this. A park where fossils are found will hire archeologists to serve as rangers. Civil War parks will hire war historians to serve. A park like Mount Rushmore, which is centered on one of the planets largest sculptures, will hire a sculptor. In addition to carving stone, a large portion of this job is public speaking. I provide information on the creative and technical sides of being an artist, as well as the historical and scientific aspects of carving the mountain. Many people have never seen someone carve stone, and it’s an honor to expose people to sculpture for perhaps the first time and prove that it’s not supernatural.
I applied for this job just like anyone else. My degree from KSU and my experience there as president of the sculpture club was invaluable in achieving this goal. After graduating, I felt like I wasn’t done learning and wanted to explore my second love, the outdoors and parks. I was an intern at Red Top Mountain State Park for six months, where I could continue to participate in iron pours. I gained a passion for foundry thanks to Keith Smith, KSU assistant professor of art, who invited me to my first iron pour. Because it was a joint park system, I also got to work at Etowah Indian Mounds, Picketts Mill Battlefield and Allatoona Pass Battlefield. Most people spend years at state parks working their way into the National Park Service. My combined experience, art and park service, catapulted me into this job. It is an honor to work here and be a part of the history of Mount Rushmore.
Aside from a career standpoint, this job has provided me with life experiences I would never have had otherwise. During training, I got to stand on top of the Crazy Horse Monument, the largest sculpture on earth. I’ve spelunked caves and hiked in Badlands National Park under moonlight with other rangers. I live in the middle of the Black Hills National Forest, which is sacred land to the Lakota tribes, and their presence is strong here. The altitude is 5800 feet, and needless to say, the view is spectacular. I could go on, but I’ve seen more in the past two months than I have in my entire life.
I would like to give special thanks to Keith Smith and Daniel Sachs, KSU assistant professor of art, for coaching me in stone carving and providing insight to the historical aspects of Mount Rushmore, which have improved my ability to do this job.
The views expressed here are those of the author. They do no necesarily represent Kennesaw State University.