Thursday, March 25, 2010

To Sculpt a Legend

Magnet # 202: South Dakota's Mount Rushmore Photo

Material: Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By: Greg

The American artist and sculptor Gutzon Borglum was born on this day in 1867. His name may not be famous, but his work certainly is. Borglum went on to create sculptures such as Stone Mountain in Georgia and the iconic Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. He was born in Idaho to a pair of Danish immigrants. His father was an experienced woodcarver who was no doubt very influential to his son's artistic development. Borglum traveled to Paris to train in sculpting and met Auguste Rodin there, who would become a great influence to him. When he returned to the United States, he began receiving prestigious commissions and awards and was even the first living American to have a sculpture purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Soon, he began to focus on two characteristics in his work that would direct the course of his career: Borglum became very interested in carving patriotic figures, and working on a very large scale. He even sculpted the head of Abraham Lincoln from a six-ton block of marble that Teddy Roosevelt displayed at the White House and is now featured in the Capitol Rotunda.

Borglum was approached in 1915 by the United Daughters of the Confederate to carve his first great work at Stone Mountain. There, a giant quartz monzonite rock stretched up over 800 feet and the women wanted to have a twenty foot high bust of Confederate hero Robert E. Lee carved onto it. However, Borglum realized the size of the image would be dwarfed by the huge rock, so he convinced them that it would be akin to "a postage stamp on a barn door." Eventually, he came up with the idea of creating a high-relief frieze featuring Lee on horseback, accompanied by Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis. He wanted them to be followed by troops, but that feature never came to fruition. When the work began, it proved to be quite a challenge. Borglum was forced to develop his own machine to project the image onto the mountainside. He got as far as carving Lee's head into the rock, but tensions between Borglum and the Stone Mountain Confederate Monumental Association had grown so tense that he destroyed all of his models and left the state. His work on Lee was eventually cleared off to make way for another sculptor. It would seem his toils at Stone Mountain had gotten him nowhere, but Borglum had developed a new set of skills that would be critical for his next project, the greatest of his life - Mount Rushmore.

Discussions had been underway for years to create a tourist attraction in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Original plans were for heroes of the West to be carved there, but those were given up in favor of figures that would draw in more crowds. Borglum traveled to the area to advise on the project and recommended that they not use the granite pillars they had been planning on, as they would not be able to support the carvings. He thought Mount Rushmore would be a far more appropriate place to work on, as it was very grand and faced the South, allowing the most exposure to the Sun possible. It was finally decided that four Presidents would be carved on the mountain - George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. For a brief time, Susan B. Anthony was also considered. Borglum went to work planning models of what would be placed on the mountain. One was even several times taller than Borglum himself and extended all the way to the Presidents' waists. However, they never had enough funds to carve this much out of the mountain. The work on the mountain began in 1927 and lasted until 1941. Unfortunately, Borglum wasn't able to see his work made complete. He died only months before it was finished.

Borglum not only left behind an impressive collection of work, he also had a very talented son, Lincoln Borglum, who became a sculptor and worked on Mount Rushmore. After his father's death, he stepped up and put the finishing touches on what he had nearly completed, but was careful to to alter too much the state of completion his father had attained. Nowadays, about two million people visit Mount Rushmore each year. Through his hard work, Borglum created an icon of the American spirit and its grandeur and perseverance are a testament to his genius.

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