Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Mount Rushmore, More Big Dakota Art

The first idea of putting large sculptures on mountains to attract tourists to the Black Hills was to have heroes of the West carved into the needles. When Gutzon Borglum was hired for the job he said that if he was to do the work the sculptures would have to have a more national significance than local Western figures. He chose the four Presidents for the work and scouted the area, choosing Mount Rushmore because its southeastern exposure with its direct sunlight would enhance his work. The results are spectacular.

There are many places with distant views of Mount Rushmore National Memorial. It is too bad that Borglum's original plan to allow tourists access to the top of the mountain was never realized. It would be great to see the view across the Black Hills to the prairie that the Presidents will see for eternity.
Sculpture of the sculptor Gutzon Borglum.

The Avenue of Flags with 56 flags of the states, districts, territories and commonwealths of the US create an impressive entrance to the memorial.

Of course, Mount Rushmore is all about BIG. Each head is approximately 60 feet high. If head to toe figures had been carved they would have been 465 feet high with the feet at the bottom of the rubble pile behind us.

Mount Rushmore before the work began. Over 90%, 450,000 tons, of rock was removed using dynamite before jackhammers were used to honeycomb the rock to weaken the granite so it could easily be removed. The final step was to use a bumper tool to make the surface as smooth as a sidewalk. All this work was done by the workers hanging over the front of the mountain in Bosun chairs. Miraculously, not one worker was killed.

The Presidential Trail offers a different view. Washington was chosen as the "Father of Our Country," the leader of the Revolution and the first President. Lincoln was chosen as the "Great Emancipator" who held the country together. He was Gutzon's favorite president and he named his son Lincoln. Jefferson was chosen as the writer of the Declaration of Independence and for expanding the nation with the Louisiana Purchase. Roosevelt was the most controversial choice because he had only been dead for eight years but Borglum felt the building of the Panama Canal during his Presidency realized the dream of Columbus of a water route to the Pacific. He was also a personal friend of the sculptor.

In the sculptor's studio is the original 1:12 ratio plaster model Borglum sculpted. Look carefully and you can see the finished work through the top of the window. Precise measurements were made on the model using a protractor on the top of the heads and a plumb line. These measurements were then multiplied by 12 and transferred to the mountain to show the workers what rock needed to be removed.

Here we are with Don "Nick" Clifford who worked on the project from 1938 to 1940. Nick has written a book on his experience as one of the the 400 workers. It was great to meet and talk to someone who knew Borglum and was there when the project was completed. I always think it is neat to look at things from the perspective of how closely people and events are connected. I met Nick in 2011, Nick knew Borglum in 1939, Borglum knew Roosevelt 1900. Through three people I have a connection going back over 100 years. Neat! Even though the work was not totally completed it stopped six months after Gutzon Borglum's death in 1941 as WWII was threatening and money ran out. Mount Rushmore is a must see as a great American icon and BIG Dakota art.

1 comment:

Sam&Donna Weibel said...

I so ell remember our trip out there and never having been there, we were on a two lane road going to the Mt Rushmore KOA out in what we considered the middle of nowhere and pulling a grade that had our old chevy diesel laboring we came around a curve and there as if framed by the tress was Mt Rushmore in all it's majesty. What a first time sight, if your an American it takes your breath away, and all you can say is "God Bless America". A once in a lifetime experienec. Be safe out there. Sam & Donna...