From Pipestone County Star – Published 11.05.10

Dave Rambow completed his first week last week as the new business manager of the Pipestone Indian Shrine Association, but his new employment marks a return rather than a beginning.

Recruited from a museum in Sioux Falls where he was working after college, Rambow first moved to Pipestone about 20 years ago to lead the Pipestone County Historical Museum as its director.

“I consider it my home now,” he said. “I just really fell in love with this part of the country, with the history and legends.”

The soft-spoken Rambow, who said he’s “on the wrong side of 50,” was the interpretive ranger/naturalist at Blue Mounds State Park after the museum and then a seasonal ranger for five years at the Monument before taking a permanent term position for three years at Effigy Mounds National Monument in Harper’s Ferry, Iowa as a technician.

“That three years was getting close and I got the call that this job was open, and so I answered the call and came back,” he said. His son, Thomas, is a senior at Pipestone Area Schools high school.

Resigning from the federal system to take the position with the Shrine, Rambow is returning to the private, nonprofit employment that first brought him to Pipestone a couple decades ago. He’s also working in a position that taps his past experience and his college major and minors: cultural anthropology and archaeology, with minors in history and art.

“It’s all connected here right in this spot,” Rambow said.

Call it coincidence or fate, but these types of connections have tightened the tethers between Rambow and Pipestone from the start. After first moving to Pipestone, he learned he had ancestors who came through in 1880 before heading west to Dakota. And the house he now owns in Pipestone was owned by the woman who founded the Pipestone Indian Shrine Association, his new employer.

“Interesting synchronicity,” Rambow said.

The Pipestone Indian Shrine Association, officially founded in 1955, is dedicated to preserving the Indian art form of pipemaking.

“Primarily, that’s who we’re serving here — the carvers who do the work from the pipestone,” Rambow said. “We’re trying to support their art and promote it and at the same time, help the National Park with their purpose and mission as well.”

In his new position, Rambow will oversee all the Shrine’s business operations, which include the gift shop at the Monument that sells pipes, jewelry and other items crafted from pipestone, as well as books, postcards, music and various American Indian crafts.

A Shrine committee approves the materials sold within the gift shop; ultimate approval comes from Monument Superintendent Glen Livermont.

“It has to be pertinent or reflective of the pipestone area and the park,” Rambow said. “The pipestone itself, anything carved from the stone, the people who bring that in for sale have to be registered, enrolled members of a tribe that’s federally recognized.”

Rambow will also oversee the four federally-funded American Indian carvers who demonstrate their craft for Monument visitors between spring and fall.

“They’re the reason people come here; to see those people work,” Rambow said. “They’re the draw and after the visitors see them then they come over (to the gift shop). That’s very valuable. The visitor wants to purchase something from someone they spoke to and interacted with and saw how they worked. It’s beneficial to the carver as well as to the Shrine Association.”

Over the next year, Rambow said he plans to work on the membership drive, the quarterly newsletter and develop, “a Web site that’s actually functional. That was going for awhile, but it fell apart. “ The overriding goal is to bring more awareness and visibility to the Monument, its quarries and the pipemakers who still employ their craft.

“It’s important to let people know there is such a place (as this) in the United States,” Rambow said. “It’s a very important cultural location. The stone brought tribes here from all over the U.S.; archeologists find pipestone all over the U.S. That stone didn’t walk there (to those places around the country) by itself; it was traded hand-over-hand. That story is just so compelling.

“Of all the places, this is the one place that was deemed sacred,” he continued. “It was seen as such an important source of the stone. It should be shared with people; they should know it’s very special.”

Rambow in the movies

As a tintype photographer, Dave Rambow knows something about ancient crafts. He said there are probably only about two dozen remaining in the United States who use the actual chemistry, darkroom techniques and cameras used in the 1860s and 70s.

It’s almost like a lost art,” he said. “You don’t dress up in clothes and they take a digital photo and run it through a bath that makes it look brown.”

Rambow’s talent displayed on a Web site caught the attention of the production team for the Coen Brothers’ latest project, a remake of “True Grit,” starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin and scheduled for release this year. Rambow created 12 different tintypes for the film in different styles, frames and mats.

They wanted photos, not just some paper thing thrown in a glass frame that looked kinda-sorta like a tintype,” Rambow said. “I’m not sure which one they might have chosen, if any.”

He was also tapped by the directorial team of Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard for their latest project, “Cowboys and Aliens.”

“They had one specific thing they wanted: a photo of one actress named Abigail Spenser; something that would fit in a hat band,” Rambow said. “They sent me the still photos and I worked from those.”