BackgroundThe son of Mormon Danish immigrants, Gutzon Borglum was born in 1867 in St. Charles in what was then Idaho Territory. Borglum was a child of Mormon polygamy. His father, Jens Møller Haugaard Børglum, had two wives when he lived in Idaho—Borglum's mother and his mother's sister, his father's first wife. His father decided to leave Mormonism and to go back to Omaha, where polygamy was illegal and taboo, leaving Gutzon's mother, while taking his first wife with him. His father worked mainly as a woodcarver before leaving Idaho to attend the Saint Louis Homeopathic Medical College in Saint Louis, Missouri. Upon his graduation from the Missouri Medical College in 1874, Dr. Borglum moved the family to Fremont, Nebraska, where he established a medical practice. Gutzon Borglum remained in Fremont until 1882, when his father enrolled him in St. Mary's College, Kansas. After a brief stint at Saint Mary’s College, Borglum relocated to Omaha, Nebraska, where he apprenticed in a machine shop and graduated from Creighton Preparatory School. He was trained in Paris at the Académie Julian, where he came to know Auguste Rodin and was influenced by Rodin's impressionistic light-catching surfaces. Back in the U.S. in New York City he sculpted saints and apostles for the new Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in 1901; in 1906 he had a group sculpture accepted by the Metropolitan Museum of Art— the first sculpture by a living American the museum had ever purchased—and made his presence further felt with some portraits. He also won the Logan Medal of the Arts. His reputation soon surpassed that of his younger brother, Solon Borglum, already an established sculptor.
In 1925, the sculptor moved to Texas to work on the monument to trail drivers commissioned by the Trail Drivers Association. He completed the model in 1925, but due to lack of funds it was not cast until 1940, and then was only a fourth its originally planned size. It stands in front of the Texas Pioneer and Trail Drivers Memorial Hall next to the Witte Museum in San Antonio. Borglum lived at the historic Menger Hotel, which in the 1920s was the residence of a number of artists. He subsequently planned the redevelopment of the Corpus Christi waterfront; the plan failed, although a model for a statue of Christ intended for it was later modified by his son and erected on a mountaintop in South Dakota.
While living and working in Texas, Borglum took an interest in local beautification. He promoted change and modernity, although he was berated by academicians.
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 United States Capitol Crypt 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.
Winning this competition was a personal triumph for him because he won out over sculptor J.Q.A.Ward, a much older and more established artist and one whom Borglum had clashed with earlier in regard to the National Sculpture Society. At the unveiling of the Sheridan statue, one observer, President Theodore Roosevelt (whom Borglum was later to include in the Mount Rushmore portrait group), declared that it was "first rate"; a critic wrote that "as a sculptor Gutzon Borglum was no longer a rumor, he was a fact." (Smith:see References)
Borglum was active in the committee that organized the New York Armory Show of 1913, the birthplace of modernism in American art. By the time the show was ready to open, however, Borglum had resigned from the committee, feeling that the emphasis on avant-garde works had co-opted the original premise of the show and made traditional artists like himself look provincial. He lived in Stamford, Connecticut for 10 years.
Borglum is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale in California 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).
Borglum's ideas eventually evolved into a high-relief frieze of Lee, Jefferson Davis, and 'Stonewall' Jackson riding around the mountain, followed by a legion of artillery troops.
After a delay caused by World War I, Borglum and the newly-chartered Stone Mountain Confederate Monumental Association set to work on this unexampled monument, the size of which had never been attempted before. Many difficulties slowed progress, some because of the sheer scale involved. After finishing the detailed model of the carving, Borglum was unable to trace the figures onto the massive area on which he was working, until he developed a gigantic magic lantern to project the image onto the side of the mountain.
Carving officially began on June 23, 1923, with Borglum making the first cut. At Stone Mountain he developed sympathetic connections with the reorganized Ku Klux Klan, who were major financial backers for the monument. Lee's head was unveiled on Lee's birthday January 19, 1924, to a large crowd, but soon thereafter Borglum was increasingly at odds with the officials of the organization. His domineering, perfectionist, irascible, authoritarian manner brought tensions to such a point that in March 1925 Borglum smashed his clay and plaster models, and he left Georgia permanently. His tenure with the organization was over. None of his work remains, as it was all cleared from the mountain's face for the work of Augustus Lukeman, Borglum's replacement, but in his abortive attempt, Borglum had developed necessary techniques for sculpting on a gigantic scale that made Mount Rushmore possible.
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. During the Rushmore project, father and son were residents of Beeville, Texas. 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.
In 1909, Rabboni was created as a grave site for the Ffoulke Family in Washington, D.C. at Rock Creek Cemetery.
In 1912, the Nathaniel Wheeler Memorial Fountain was dedicated in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
In 1918, he was one of the drafters of the Czechoslovak declaration of independence.
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 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.
Four public works by Borglum are in Newark, NJ: Seated Lincoln (1911), Indian and Puritan (1916), Wars of America (1926), and a bas-relief, "First Landing Party of the Founders of Newark" (1916).
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.
Canadian artist Christian Cardell Corbet was the first Canadian to sculpt a posthumous medallion of Borglum. It currently resides at the Gutzon Borglum Museum in South Dakota.
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.
He also created a memorial to Sacco and Vanzetti (1928), a plaster cast of which is now in the Boston Public Library.
In popular culture
- Borglum is mentioned in the 1996 film, My Fellow Americans as having carved Mount Rushmore.
- Borglum is mentioned in the 2007 film, National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets as having to construct the monument at Mount Rushmore in order to disguise the natural, physical landmarks that would lead to the location of the lost city of gold, Cibola.
- Borglum is a prominent character in the 2010 novel, Black Hills, by Dan Simmons.
- The October 19, 2011 episode of Brad Meltzer's Decoded examines a conspiracy theory that Mount Rushmore was actually a white supremacy monument built for Borglum's KKK contacts.
- Borglum biography inPBS's American Experience series
- Sketch of the abortive "Stone Mountain" project
- Exhibition narrative, Out of Rushmore's Shadow: The Artistic Development of Gutzon Borglum, Stamford, Connecticut Museum,1999/2000
- Mt Rushmore/Gutzon Borglum Museum in Keystone, SD
- Information on John William Mackay statue in Reno, NV
- Borglum speech at Nebraska State Historical Society
- A Sculptor Left His Mark on Newark
- Booknotes interview with John Taliaferro on Great White Fathers: The Story of the Obsessive Quest to Create Mt. Rushmore, December 15, 2002.
- Mountain Sculpture by Gutzon Borglum, Dupont Magazine, Summer 1932
- Borglum, Gutzon (June 1914). "Art That Is Real And American: Why We Should Create Our Own Art out Of Our Own National History Instead Of Imitating The Work That Properly Expressed The Triumphs Of Greece And Rome". The World's Work: A History of Our Time XLIV (2): 200–215. Retrieved 2009-08-04.
- Sacco and Vanzetti Stature
- Daniel Butterfield Stature
- Ku Klux Klan he was a member
- Freemasons Ancient Free and Accepted Masons
- Seated Lincoln sculptor
- Indian and Puritan sculptor
- Wars of America sculptor
- North Carolina Monument sculptor
- Aviator sculptor
- Nathaniel Wheeler Memorial Fountain
- Rabboni sculptor
- John William Mackay sculptor
- Mount Rushmore designer and builder
- Augustus Lukeman Stone Mountain
- General Philip Sheridan Memorial
- United States Capitol Crypt
- Solon Borglum younger brother