Thursday, April 30, 2009


Oddly named people: Gutzon Borglum

Mount RushmoreFew people who visit Mount Rushmore will forget the name of its designer, sculptor Gutzon Borglum. I’ve always chuckled at his odd name, while marvelling at his work.

Borglum created a number of pieces of public art. The one I’ve encountered most often, during the time I lived in the Washington, DC, area, is his statue of Civil War general Philip Sheridan, displayed at Sheridan Circle, at 23rd Street and Massachusetts Avenue, next to Rock Creek Park. His most famous, though, is Mount Rushmore.

The massive Mount Rushmore National Memorial, in the Black Hills of South Dakota, depicting the faces of four U.S. presidents, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. The monument took fourteen years to finish, and the final bits of what we see today were actually completed by the artist’s son Lincoln — named after the president — in the months after Gutzon’s death in 1941. Much more had been planned for the sculpture (the presidents were supposed to be seen from the waist up), but time and money settled us on what’s there.

His next most well known involvement is in the sculpture at Stone Mountain, Georgia, near Atlanta. Cut into the face of the granite rock, above a nice park, are the figures of three Confederate heroes — Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and Jefferson Davis — riding horses. Borglum worked on the Stone Mountain project from its first cut in 1923, and the carving of General Lee’s head was unveiled in 1924. But he abandoned the project because of arguments with those in charge, the project was taken over by others (Augustus Lukeman in the 1920s, and Walker Hancock and Roy Faulkner in the 1960s) who completely removed Borglum’s work and replaced it.

But his name will always be remembered for Mount Rushmore, probably the most impressive sculpture in the world, visited by around two million people a year.

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