Mount Rushmore towers commandingly over the Black Hills of South Dakota, beckoning visitors to come closer to see in detail the four faces of the U.S. presidents carved into the mountainside.
The carvings themselves are so much a part of Rushmore that it’s as if the granite mountain pushed through the earth millions of years ago with the faces of four of America’s most important presidents prophetically carved into the mountain face.
But of course, they were sculpted by men dangling and clambering precariously all over the face of the 6,000-foot mountain (1927-1942). Who was behind it all?
The man capable of making this idea a reality was America-born John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum (1867-1941). Gutzon Borglum was a painter, an illustrator, and a sculptor who cared deeply about any subject he took on.
Testimonials came from unlikely people. One of Borglum’s favorite subjects was Abraham Lincoln, a subject he was always happy to return to. (He named his own son Lincoln, after the great man.)
When Teddy Roosevelt was in the White House, the president commissioned Borglum to prepare a marble bust of Lincoln to display there. When Robert Todd Lincoln, Lincoln’s only surviving son saw the piece, he uttered in amazement: “I never expected to see Father again!”
Borglum’s statue of Thomas Paine (1937) drew admiration from Helen Keller: “I have had the privilege of examining the model of Borglum’s statue, and it has spoken things into my hand which fill me with emotion.”
Though Borglum was a difficult man to work with and for, most of his clients were given full commitment. Occasionally, a rift between artist and client would become too great to overcome as it did with Stone Mountain. Most of the time Borglum did everything he could to complete his projects.
Despite Rushmore’s fame, few know the name of the sculptor.
But there was one man who had the plan, the technical and artistic knowledge, and the eye for making these colossal figures look so natural that one expects them to talk.