Mount Rushmore: More of the Story
The Well-Known Story
When you arrive at the Black Hills of South Dakota, you will find the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln looking down from their stony heights in a mountain. They seem to be reminding the visitors that even the impossible is possible when you live in the United States.
A state historian named, Doane Robinson, had an idea of how to attract more visitors to South Dakota in 1923. He though that the mountains located in the Black Hills could be used as a platform to display western heroes of the United States. When Robinson got enough supporters he was able to get laws were passed so the work of art could begin in the Harney National Forest Preserve (now Black Hills National Forest). George Washington’s head was started on first, and then Thomas Jefferson was started on to the right of Washington. Jefferson’s face had been worked on for two years and finally it was decided to start over on the other side of Washington, because the granite kept cracking.
Soon Jefferson’s head was blasted of the face of the mountain. Jefferson’s face was then placed to the left of Washington, exactly where he is today. After Jefferson was firmly set in place, Roosevelt and Lincoln were added.
According to Oak (2008), “Washington’s face was made open to the public on July 4, 1934.” Washington was covered under a huge flag before his likeness on the mountain was revealed to the public. In 1936, Thomas Jefferson was dedicated and President Franklin Roosevelt attended the ceremony.
Mount Rushmore, along with the many works of art that depict America, stands out as a symbol of the first 150 years of a new nation.(John) Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum carved, or should I say blasted, the massive likenesses of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln who look down on the visitor’s center of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial, near Keystone, South Dakota.
Why were Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln chosen for this sculpture? Each president was up there for a specific reason. Washington was selected because he was the first president and leader back when America first started. He was there during the fight for independence, and he is considered one of the main founders of our country’s republic. If you remember what Jefferson did during his presidency, he was the president who made the Louisiana Purchase. This expansion of America affected the way America is today. For this reason, the expansion of America, Jefferson was put on Mount Rushmore. We all know what Lincoln did during his terms as president. He made it to where people could not own another person. This respect for humanity, and all races was the main reason Lincoln was put on Mount Rushmore. Finally, Roosevelt was chosen to represent how the passing of time brings change,
More of the Story
Every monument and public project of any type has a story to tell. In the case of Mount Rushmore, there are many stories (Perrottet, 2006). One story that is not well known is how the project brought together a renowned, French-trained, American sculptor and an unknown, but very talented Italian immigrant whose hand refined and nuanced the image we see today.
Borglum was born in St. Charles, Idaho on March 25, 1867 to a Danish woodcarving immigrant and his wife. When Borglum was older, he studied art and sculpture in Paris, France.During his time in France, he met the creator of the Thinker, Auguste Rodin, and was influenced by Rodin’s genius. Borglum went back to New York and began his career as an artist and sculptor.In 1901, he became the first living American sculptor whose work was accepted by the prestigious Metropolitan Museum of Art.He was also awarded the Logan Medal of Arts for some of his portraits.Borglum’s life-long dream was to create art depicting American achievements.
Borglum carved the head of Abraham Lincoln from a six-ton block of marble, which can be seen today in the Capitol Rotonda in Washington D.C. Borglum created a sculpture of General Philip Sheridan, a civil war leader, in 1908 which was to be put in Sheridan Circle, also in our nation’s capital. President Teddy Roosevelt declared the artist’s talent with the quip, “First rate!”after the sculpture was revealed.
Across the Atlantic Ocean, Vincenzo and Osvalda Del Bianco, were on their return cruise from the United States to Italy and there at the port of Le Havre, France was their son, Luigi, welcoming them home on May 18, 1982.
When Luigi was a small boy at home in Meduno, Pordenone, Italy, he watched his father carve wooden figures; fascinated, he took up the art himself. Vincenzo noticed the boy’s talents and encouraged him.When Luigi was eleven, he went with his father to Austria, to learn the art of stone carving from master artisans.When Luigi had been in Vienna two years, he decided to return to Italy, where he completed his studies in Venice.
Luigi received a letter from his American cousins in Barre, Vermont, when he was seventeen, telling him of the need for stone carvers in America. Luigi sailed to America from Naples, Italy to make a new life in a new land.In 1913, World War l exploded onto the worldwide scene and Luigi returned to Italy to fight for his country.After the war ended, he returned to Vermont and in 1920, settled in Port Chester, New York, where he met and married Nicoletta Cardarelli.This would prove to be critical point in his life.Alfonso Scafa, Nicoletta’s brother, introduced Luigi to Gutzon Borglum. These two soon he began a friendship that lasted until Borglum’s death in 1941.
Borglum recognized Luigi’s talent quickly and affectionately nicknamed him “Bianco.” Borglum recruited Bianco’s help in 1920 to help carve the Governor Hancock Memorial on Stone Mountain, Georgia and the Wars of America Memorial in Newark, New Jersey.
Borglum hired Bianco as chief carver in 1933 to supervise the Mount Rushmore project, a major undertaking that would last fourteen years. Bianco’s job was to perfect the President’s facial features in the granite after they had been shaped crudely by dynamite. While they were sculpting, Borglum often praised Bianco for his expertise and dedication to making Mount Rushmore a work of art.Jefferson’s nose became a problem at one point; it had revealed a large crack in the stone. However, with Bianco’s expertise, the face was shifted, placing the crack on Jefferson’s lip. The lip was then filled in with granite and secured in place, thus making the repair barely noticeable. Bianco also put his deft touch on Lincoln’s eyes.
It is clear to me that when people work on a group project there are different jobs for different members of the group. Carving Mount Rushmore was a group project. Borglum is given the credit for sculpting Mount Rushmore, but there were many more artists besides him creating this monument. Borglum had a team of artists that had to have the same goal and vision as he did to bring out the result seen today. Bianco’s talent of refinement was just as important as Borglum’s vision of creating and blasting this monumental task. In my opinion, it is too bad that Bianco’s name is not as famous as Borglum’s name.
- Bulow, W. J. (1947) My days with Gutzon Borglum. Saturday Evening Post, 24-108, p. 5.
- Heard, A. (1991) Mount Rushmore: the real story. The New Republic, 15(22), 16-18.
- Mount Rushmore (2009). In the Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved December 9, 2009, from Encyclopedia Britannica Online:hhtp://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/513073/Mount-Rushmore
- Mount Rushmore National Memorial (2009). The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. Copyright 2000-2006, on Infoplease. Copyright 2000-2007 Pearson Education, publishing as Infoplease. 9 Dec. 2009 https://www.infoplease.com/encyclopedia/places/north-america/us-national-parks/mount-rushmore-national-memorial.
- Oak, M. (2008). Mt. Rushmore History Retrieved December 9, 2009, from
- Perrottet, T. (2006) Mount Rushmore: The real story. Smithsonian, 32(2). 78-83
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