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
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.
Borglum with his colossal Lincoln
|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
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"
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
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).
|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).
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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