Sunday, December 6, 1998
By Jagmohan Singh Barhok
THE four unbelievably huge faces of American Presidents, 60-feet high, carved in the granite of Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota, stop ones breath for a moment and bring before the eyes of the beholders a dazzling panorama of exuberant sculptural work coupled with aesthetic appeal. The faces are those of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. The carving of George Washingtons head is as tall as a six-storey building. The width of Lincolns eye and mouth is 11 feet and 18 feet, respectively. The length of Lincolns nose is 20 feet. If his body was carved from head to toe, the height of the full figure would be 465 feet.
The idea of the monument was originally conceived in 1923 by a state historian named Doane Robinson to draw sightseers. Robinson suggested carving some giant statues in South Dakotas Black Hills. Robinson was not the first American to think that a big country demanded big art. As early as 1849, Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton proposed a superscale Christopher Columbus in the Rocky Mountains. In 1886 the 150-foot Statue of Liberty was unveiled.
In an era when many artists scorned traditional patriotism, Gutzon Borglum made his name through celebration of things American. As his style evolved, "American" came to mean "big". "There is not a monument in this country as big as a snuff box", complained Borglum. Born in Idaho in 1867, this son of Danish Mormons studied art in Paris. Back home he worked in the shadow of his artist brother Solon even after several works brought Gutzon moderate fame. Among them were a remodelled torch for the Statue of Liberty, saints and apostles for the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York and an oversized Lincoln bust for the U.S. Capitol. In 1915 he began the Stone Mountain memorial which brought experience in large-scale granite carving and in showmanship.
In 1923 Doane Robinson wrote to Borglum about the possibility of doing a mountain carving in the Black Hills. Borglum came to South Dakota in 1924 at the age of 57 and agreed in principle to do the project. His dismissal from Stone Mountain made it possible for him to return to South Dakota in the summer of 1925 and set in motion the machinery that eventually led to the creation of Mount Rushmore.
Mount Rushmore, named in 1885 for New York lawyer Charles Rushmore, was selected as the site for the memorial. Because of the smoother grain and finer texture of the stone in Mount Rushmore, it was more suitable for carving than other mountains in the Black Hills. It was also large enough to permit sculpture of a scale consistent with Gutzon Borglums purpose. Mount Rushmores southeast face had the advantage of good sunlight to enhance the aesthetic appeal of the sculpture.
Work on Mount Rushmore started on August 10, 1927, under the stewardship of Borglum himself, the day President Calvin Coolidge dedicated the memorial. It was not until October 4 that drilling and blasting of the granite began full scale. Lack of funds and unfavourable weather were to spread the six-and-half-years of work over a 14-year period. Money was the main problem in the Great Depression years. It was here that Gutzon Borglums self-appraisal as a "one-man war" was earned.
He personally lobbied with state officials, Congressmen, Cabinet members and presidents. "The work is purely a national memorial", he insisted at a congressional hearing in 1938. Pride in the country, and the fact that public works created good jobs and goodwill channeled $ 8,36,000 of federal money toward the total cost of nearly $ 1000,000. Washingtons head was formally unveiled in 1930, followed by Jeffersons in 1936, Lincolns in 1937 and Roosevelts in 1939. Borglum remained devoted to the project until his death. Gutzon Borglum died in Chicago following an open heart surgery on March 6,1941, a few days before his 74th birthday. The project fell to his son Lincoln who in turn put the finishing touches on his fathers vision.
More than 360 workers helped sculpt Mount Rushmore, working in crews of about 30 men. The average worker earned 50 cents to 150 cents an hour. Drillers, powermen, and winch operators were of diverse backgrounds; many of them hardrock miners. Most were from immediate area and proud of their contribution. Indeed, a contribution to be remembered for ages to come. No one, it is reliably learnt, was seriously injured or killed during the construction.
The tourists should first visit the orientation center near the parking area. The orientation center is open from 8 a.m. till 5 p.m. in winter, and until 10 p.m. during the summer season. The sculpture remains lighted during the night throughout the year. A lighting ceremony is also presented at the amphi-theatre every night in summer.
The memorial faces south-east and is best viewed and photographed in the morning light. Short trails lead to the sculptors studio. The studio has exhibits that include original tools, models and other carving equipment. Tours to the studio are conducted daily during the summer season.
There is no campground in the park. Motels, picnic areas and campgrounds are available in the adjoining vicinity in the Black Hills National Forest. Surrounded by the Black Hills National Forest, Mount Rushmore is on route 244. The nearest main town is Rapid City, which is served by major airlines and bus routes.
Other places of interest
in the area include Badlands National Park, Jewel Cave
National Park, Devils Tower National Monument and Pine
Ridge Reservation and Custer State Park. Alfred
Hitchcocks 1959 movie North by North-West starring
Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint was filmed in the backdrop
of Mount Rushmore. The phrase "Shrine of
Democracy" was, however, coined at the 1930
dedication of the Washington head.
| Interview | Bollywood Bhelpuri | Living Space | Nature | Garden Life | Fitness |
| Travel | Modern Classics | Your Option | Time off | A Soldier's Diary |
| Wide Angle | Caption Contest |