Mount Rushmore - Timothy Cancro

Staging in California, 1889

John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum was born March 25, 1867 in Idaho to two Danish immigrants. His father, a woodcutter, provided the family income. Some believe that Borglum gained his affection for sculpting by watching his father chop wood (Borglum).

At the age of 17, Borglum moved to San Francisco to focus his studies on art. His early artwork focused on California’s rapidly changing milieu. With the completion of the transcontinental railroad, many people rushed to settle this new land, especially as many artists, including Borglum, portrayed California as "a paradise at the end of the trail" ("Rushmore’s Shadow"). He also contributed many paintings that contained western iconography, such as cacti and covered wagons, and even redesigned the cover of The Land of Sunshine, a western regional magazine.

In 1890, Borglum traveled to France to study art at the Académie Julian and the École des Beaux-Arts (Britannica). While in France, Borglum met the French sculptor Auguste Rodin, who would greatly influence Borglum’s future artwork.

Rodin’s works were symbolic of a person’s inner personality rather than his outward appearance ("Rushmore’s Shadow"). Several of Borglum’s paintings and sculptures were accepted to the French Salons (Britannica). Due to the substantial competition in France, Borglum returned to the New York to create his artwork.

The Dancer, 1916

The Mares of Diomedes, 1904

While in New York, Borglum sculpted The Mares of Diomedes. His sculpture was first American piece highlighted by The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (Britannica). During his staying in New York, he also crafted the Twelve Apostles for the St. John the Divine Cathedral (John Gutzon Borglum). Over the next 22 years, Borglum would create one hundred figures for the cathedral ("Rushmore’s Shadows").

Borglum then focused his attention on the Egyptian style of gigantic sculptures. He began carving a sculpture of Abraham Lincoln from a six ton slab of marble (See Fig. 4). Theodore Roosevelt was so impressed by the sculpture that it was placed in the Capital Rotunda ("Rushmore’s Shadows"). Many people came to view the sculpture including the Daughters of Confederacy, who later sought out Borglum to erect a memorial to Robert E. Lee (Britannica).

Borglum with his colossal Lincoln

Stone Mountain
The women wanted Robert E. Lee’s head carved into Stone Mountain, in Georgia. The federal government agreed to help sponsor the cost by minting a special coin to cover the sculptor’s costs. Borglum dismissed the women’s idea as too mundane, and he soon constructed plans to carve an entire army of southern soldiers led by General Lee to be carved on the mountain ("Rushmore’s Shadows"). The cost of his new idea was enormous and it soon led to a debate between Borglum and his patrons. Borglum quit his project after completing Lee’s head (Britannica). However, he soon learned that his models were to be used by another sculptor to finish the project. He consequently destroyed his models and was chased out of Georgia by the state police, who held a warrant for his arrest ("Definition of").

In 1924, Borglum was commissioned by U.S. Senator Peter Norbeck and Doane Robinson, superintendent of the South Dakota Historical Society, to carve a memorial in the Black Hills. It was Robinson’s idea to glorify western heroes such as Buffalo Bill Cody, Lewis and Clark, and Sioux Warriors (Mount Rushmore History). Borglum agreed to the project as long as it included national heroes and not regional ones. He wanted to create a memorial to the U.S. Presidents that represented the "birth, growth, and preservation, and the development of a nation…" (Mount Rushmore History). Initially the memorial included only George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, but was soon expanded to depict Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt as well.

"The birth of our nation was guided by the vision and courage of George Washington. Thomas Jefferson always had dreams of something bigger, first in the words of the Declaration of Independence and later in the expansion of our nation through the Louisiana Purchase. Preservation of the union was paramount to Abraham Lincoln but a nation where all men were free and equal was destined to be. At the turn of the Twentieth Century Theodore Roosevelt saw that in our nation was the possibility for greatness. Our nation was changing from a rural republic to a world power" (National Parks).

Now that the subjects of the memorial had been chosen, Borglum faced many more demanding problems that he must solve before work could begin on the monument.

First, Borglum had to find a suitable location for the sculpting to be conducted. Robinson suggested a place called the Needles, but Borglum found the rock to be too fragile to carve. He chose Mount Rushmore because of its southeastern exposure and its solid granite surface (Rushmore’s Facelift). Soon however, Borglum was being charged by environmentalists that he was destroying the magnificence of the mountain (Disturbing Glory).

Transforming the mountain to a face

After President Calvin Coolidge spent three months vacationing in the Black Hills, Borglum was ensured federal support for the project in addition to private donations. Borglum enlisted the help of local miners to him create his project. Each miner had different tasks to complete in order facilitate Borglum’s visions. Some were assigned to build a road leading to the mountain, others constructed buildings, generated power, took measurements, sharpened drill bits, while still others used dynamite to shape the mountain. The miners became so efficient with the use of dynamite that they could blast to within four inches of the final surface (Mount Rushmore History).

Workers in
In order to successfully carve the mountain, Borglum had to overcome several obstacles. He learned how to use dynamite to create the general shape of the faces. He also developed a system of pulleys that suspended miners from "swings" that were hoisted up by three-eighths inch cables. From these swings the miners drilled small holes in the mountain with pneumatic drills weighing 85 pounds. The holes drilled in the mountain were known as "honeycombing". The miners would then carefully chip away at the granite stone between the holes (PBS). Finally, the surface was "bumped," a finishing process that used drills to smooth the rock surface as though it were a concrete sidewalk (Mount Rushmore History).

Workers use
pneumonic drills

Borglum based his Mount Rushmore model on a 1 to 12 inch scale. He used a Greek process of transferring the dimensions from his model to the mountain itself. To do this, Borglum attached a pendulum at the center of each subject’s forehead. He could then swing the pendulum and record the distance from the center of the forehead to the human attribute he wished to create on the mountain (Mount Rushmore History). Borglum had originally planned to carve Jefferson to the right of Washington. However, during the carving process, Borglum found that there was not enough rock and the rock present was too brittle, and he therefore had to carve Jefferson to Washington’s left. Borglum also had to blast away a large portion of rock where Theodore Roosevelt’s face is now located to find enough solid rock to carve. Because of this, Roosevelt’s face is inset more than had been originally planned (Willet).

Borglum’s models included refined details of the presidents. Abraham Lincoln for example, has a mole carved into the side of his rock face that measures 16 inches across (PBS). The presidents’ eyes are eleven feet across and contain carved out elliptic paraboloids as the iris. The iris has rectangular prisms that jut out from the rock, which cast shadows in the iris. These shadows when viewed from afar, give an appearance of a twinkle in the eye (Welsch).   The creation of Mount Rushmore was an enduring process. Often Borglum and his workers would be delayed due to the adverse weather conditions or lack of funding. After telling his assistants what to do, Borglum would often travel around the world or to Washington D.C. to lobby for more money to complete the project. In fact, it was the lack of funding that prevented Borglum from inscribing a 400 word history of Mount Rushmore on the mountain (PBS). In addition, he wanted to ensure that future civilizations would not misunderstand the meaning behind the monument and the country that had inspired it (Rushmore’s Shadow). He soon began to carve a stone vault behind the monument to place historical records. However, before he could finish this project, Borglum died of complications from surgery.

Borglum’s son, Lincoln, was hired to complete the job, but Lincoln left the monument only partially complete. The elder Borglum had planned to carve the busts of the four presidents, but instead, Lincoln completed the monuments revealing just the heads. Upon completion, more than 450,000 tons of rock were removed from the mountain and each head stood 60 feet tall (Mt. Rushmore National Memorial). No worksite deaths occurred to the miners, though some died from silicosis, inhalation of too much granite dust. The project took fourteen years to complete and cost nearly one billion dollars. Many years later the entablature and the historical vault were also completed. In 1991, President Bush officially dedicated the memorial, and today more than 2.6 million people visit Mount Rushmore each year.


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