How many of us know the man behind the Mount Rushmore Sculpture? I came across this name when I was a little boy and the name somehow stuck to the heart!
(John) Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum (March 25, 1867 – March 6, 1941) was an American artist and sculptor famous for creating the monumental presidents‘ heads at Mount Rushmore, South Dakota, the famous carving on Stone Mountain near Atlanta, as well as other public works of art.
A fascination with gigantic scale and themes of heroic nationalism suited his extroverted personality. His head of Abraham Lincoln, carved from a six-ton block of marble, was exhibited in Theodore Roosevelt‘s White House and can be found in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C. A patriot, believing that the “monuments we have built are not our own,” he looked to create art that was “American, drawn from American sources, memorializing American achievement” according to a 1908 interview article. His equation of being “American” with being born of American parents—”flesh of our flesh”—was characteristic of nativist beliefs in the early 20th century. Borglum was highly suited to the competitive environment surrounding the contracts for public buildings and monuments, and his public sculpture is sited all around the United States.
His Mount Rushmore project was the brainchild of South Dakota state historian Doane Robinson. His first attempt with one of the faces was blown up after two years. Dynamite was also used to remove large areas of rock from under Washington’s brow. The initial pair of presidents, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln was soon joined by Thomas Jefferson, for this monument sited in the sacred Native American heartland of the Louisiana Purchase, and to make the theme of Manifest Destiny perfectly clear, Theodore Roosevelt.
Borglum alternated exhausting on-site supervising with world tours, raising money, polishing his personal legend, sculpting a Thomas Paine memorial for Paris and a Woodrow Wilson one for Poland. In his absence, work at Mount Rushmore was overseen by his son Lincoln. When he died in Chicago, following complications after surgery, his son finished another season at Rushmore, but left the monument largely in the state of completion it had reached under his father’s direction.
One of Borglum’s more unusual pieces is the “Aviator”, completed in 1919 as a memorial for James R. McConnell, who was killed in World War I while flying for the Lafayette Escadrille. It is located on the grounds of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Another impressive Borglum design is the North Carolina state monument on Seminary Ridge at the Gettysburg Battlefield in south-central Pennsylvania. The cast bronze sculpture depicts a wounded Confederate officer encouraging his men to push forward during Pickett’s Charge. With dramatic flair, Borglum had made arrangements for an airplane to fly over the monument during the dedication ceremony on July 3, 1929. During the sculpture’s unveiling, the plane scattered roses across the field as a salute to those North Carolinians who had fought and died at Gettysburg.
Borglum was an active member of the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons (the Freemasons), raised in Howard Lodge #35, New York City, on June 10, 1904, and serving as its Worshipful Master 1910-11. In 1915, he was appointed Grand Representative of the Grand Lodge of Denmark near the Grand Lodge of New York. He received his Scottish Rite Degrees in the New York City Consistory on October 25, 1907. Borglum was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. He sat on the Imperial Koncilium in 1923, which transferred leadership of The Ku Klux Klan from Imperial Wizard Colonel Simmons to Imperial Wizard Hiram Evans. Later, he stated, “I am not a member of the Kloncilium, nor a knight of the KKK“, but Shaff and Shaff add, “that was for public consumption.”  The museum at Mount Rushmore displays a letter to Borglum from D. C. Stephenson, the infamous Klan Grand Dragon who was later convicted of the rape and murder of Madge Oberholtzer.
Borglum is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale in the Memorial Court of Honor. His second wife, Mary Montgomery Williams Borglum, 1874–1955 (they were married May 20, 1909) is interred alongside him. In addition to his son, Lincoln, he had a daughter, Mary Ellis (Mel) Borglum Vhay (1916-2002).
In 1938 Borglum also sculpted the Memorial to the “Start Westward of the United States” which is located in Marietta, Ohio. He also built the statue of Daniel Butterfield in Sakura Park, Manhattan.Thanks For Sharing!