Stamford Museum and Nature Center

Stamford, CT

203.322.1646



 

Out of Rushmore's Shadow: The Artistic Development of Gutzon Borglum

 

"Out of Rushmore's Shadow: The Artistic Development of Gutzon Borglum" will be on exhibit at the Stamford Museum & Nature Center through February 20, 2000. The exhibition is a major retrospective on the work of Gutzon Borglum, best known for the carving of the presidential portraits on Mount Rushmore, South Dakota.

The exhibition's logo, "The road to Rushmore goes through Stamford," underscores the years that Borglum resided in Stamford, Connecticut and created some of his most important works in the studio he built there. At the core of the exhibition is the museum's Borglum collection, including recent acquisitions. Other artwork, photography and memorabilia are on loan from museums and private collectors throughout the country. These include Mission San Juan Capistrano, California; San Antonio Museum, Texas; the Borglum Historical Center, South Dakota, Irvine Museum , California, and R. W. Norton Art Gallery , Shreveport, Louisiana.

Borglum, the man behind the artist, comes to life, not only in his works but in the narrative of the exhibition and the essays in the catalogue. Mary Donohue, of the Connecticut Historical Commission, says in her essay, "...He counted American presidents, inordinately wealthy industrialists, and members of society's elite as friends and patrons." The exhibition analyzes the artist's career by dividing it into basically four phases: Californian, Rodin-inspired, monumental, and colossal. It illustrates the changing artistic, historical, cultural, and philosophical nature of Borglum's career. it shows the artist's choice of his subjects and style in relationship to his environment, his chance encounters with inspiring masters, political crisis, and the prevailing trends of his day. Borglum's granddaughter Robin Carter quotes his philosophy on creating, "The reason for building any work of art can only be for the purpose of fixing in some durable form a great emotion, or a great idea, of the individual, or the people." (left: I have Piped Unto You and Ye Have Not Danced, c. 1910, marble, SMNC, Pierre Dupuy)

Supporting the exhibition is a full color catalogue featuring seven-annotated essays on different aspects of Borglum's life and works, with an illustrated checklist of the exhibition's contents.

Children will find the Mini Gallery filled with ideas for projects by age level, such as locating Borglum's horse paintings and identifying them, studying portraits and making a self portrait, discovering the use of scale and ways to enlarge or reduce features.

The museum's collection of Borglum's artworks is the second largest in the country. Most of them came from the artist's estate. Because of their poor condition, they had not been seen by the public in many years. Thanks to widespread community support, the museum arranged to have these pieces restored to their original condition. It was agreed by the Borglum family, who appreciated the tremendous research and effort to restore these pieces, that the collection should remain at the Stamford Museum & Nature Center to serve as an important resource center on the artist's work.

Rosa Portell, the Stamford Museum & Nature Center's curator of collections, organized this exhibition and is one of the country's leading authorities on Gutzon Borglum. Last summer, Ms. Portell attended, by invitation of the Borglum family, the dedication of the Hall of Records at Mount Rushmore's National Memorial. In attendance at the dedication were members of the Borglum family, federal, state and local officials and other dignitaries.

Following are script excerpts by Rosa Portell, Curator of Collections, Stamford Museum and Nature Center which serve as an excellent biography of the artist:

 

From California to Mount Rushmore: A Half Century of Change

"Gutzon Borglum's artistic career covers more than half a century. Born shortly after the Civil War, he witnessed his country's transformation from a young nation struggling with its identity into a world power with a decisive role to play in international affairs. In many ways, his art reflects this transformation...In his Stamford days (1910-1920), however, Borglum was to reach a perfect balance between the artist and the statesman. Ever involved, his public life affected his art in subject matter and even in style. Leaving his "pipe dreams" behind, his work became strongly nationalistic and ideological, reflecting increasingly larger concepts of the nation and of its new role in the world. From then on, in his relentless pursuit of all-American themes and styles Borglum would follow a path entirely of his own making, a unique path that leads step-by-step to Mount Rushmore."


The Dream of California

"In 1884 seventeen-year old Gutzon Borglum moved from Nebraska to California with his family, determined to become an artist. The Borglums wanted to share in the excitement of the California of the 1880s. Thanks to the completion of the transcontinental railway, California was teeming with activity and competing with other areas of the United States in trade, population, and culture.

Influenced by his fellow-artists William Keith, Virgil Williams, and Elizabeth Jaynes Putnam - whom he would eventually marry -- Borglum's early works depicted the state's landscape and subjects in a romanticized way. In doing so he reflected the view of California as a paradise at the end of the trail, which the state was proudly promoting to the rest of the nation. California's artists were contributing to the propagation of this image through their art..."

 

Land of Sunshine

One of the main promoters of the exalted view of California and the West was The Land of Sunshine, a magazine edited by Charles Lummis. Artists were included in its editorial board and played an important role in shaping its content. Borglum's contributions started in 1895. He also redesigned its cover. The magazine's contributors saw themselves as members of an important cultural center that was emerging as an alternative to the well-established ones in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia They portrayed their art and their writing as closer to nature and to the land than those of the older American cities and, being further removed from European models, more American.

The magazine's slogan, The Land of Sunshine Expands One's Soul, was in Spanish The use of this language symbolized the intellectuals' embrace of the state's colonial heritage as a unique source of tradition, history, and colorful imagery."

 

The Spanish Missions and the Image of California

"mportant elements in the visual definition of California were the missions built all over the state by Spanish friars in the 18th and 19th centuries. Their ruinous condition gave them a romantic appeal in tune with Victorian imagery. However, by the late 1800s some were almost completely lost and an effort was made to restore them...Borglum insisted on having a role in this project, claiming that a recent trip to Spain made him uniquely qualified for the task."

(See Resource Library Magazine's article Mission San Juan Capistrano: An Artistic Legacy.:

 

The West As an Ideal

"To his highly idealized landscapes Borglum sometimes added picturesque Western elements, such as the stagecoach. These images, relatively new at the time, were destined to become part of America's basic iconography. From the late 1800s on "The West" would be interpreted as reflecting values of resilience, bravery, and self-reliance, which were seen as desirable and quintessentially American... (left: Runnin' Out the Storm, c. 1896, oil on canvas, Courtesy of the San Antonio Museum of Art, Texas) Borglum shared the field of Western sculptures with his younger brother Solon H. Borglum, who also excelled in them. They were to have a complex relationship in which brotherly cooperation mixed occasionally with artistic rivalry."

The Old Continent's Seal of Approval

"In 1889 Borglum and his wife, Lisa, traveled to Paris in search of academic training and to test their standing at the famous Paris Salons, or annual exhibitions. Several of his works were accepted to the 1891 and the 1892 Salons. Lisa, in turn, took part in the 1892 Columbus Centennial Exhibition in Spain.

In Paris, however, competition was intense and fortune elusive. A return trip to California proved to be ill-timed, as the state was in the threes of a serious financial depression. In 1896 Gutzon and Lisa went back to Europe, this time to London. There he worked as an illustrator and avidly sought patrons.

At first Borglum and Lisa saw themselves as equals in artistic merit and recognition. However, as Gutzon's skills increased he grew restless. The needs of their respective careers and other personal differences drew them apart. By 1901 the marriage was to all effects ended, although they would not divorce until 1908."

Rodin: A Fateful Encounter

"In Paris Borglum was to experience the most important artistic transformation of his career, It did not result from his formal academic studies at the École des Beaux-Arts and the Académie Julian, but through contact with the great French sculptor Auguste Rodin... Rodin's style defied definition, connecting with movements as diverse as realism, impressionism, symbolism, and even expressionism. What most attracted Borglum was the French master's symbolism, a movement in literature and art that grew in part as a reaction to the materialism of the time. Rodin's works were meant to reflect the spirit of the person or place rather than their physical characteristics. As a consequence, they were radically different from those of his contemporaries."

 

Borglum's Break with Modernism: The Armory Show

"Upon his return to America in 1901 Borglum could not wait to spread the word about Rodin's new, modern art formulas. Impatient and argumentative, it did not take him long to feud with what he considered to be "the old guard." No sooner invited to join the National Sculpture Society, he resigned from it after a nasty dispute.

Echoing the creative disagreements he had witnessed in Paris between the "old" and the "new" Salons, he felt that young artists were stifled by the old art establishment. Thus, he was to have a key role in the creation of what he saw as its more modern and democratic alternative, the Association of American Painters and Sculptors. One of his main contributions was to help with the organization of the Armory Show.

Having spent a great deal of effort to ensure the exhibition's success, Borglum was deeply disturbed by the show's selection criteria. Considered by many to be a key moment in the introduction of modernism in America, the 1913 Armory Show put so much emphasis on avant-garde works that the more traditional artists appeared by contrast old-fashioned and provincial. Borglum promptly resigned from the Association claiming that it had strayed from its original course."

 

"I Built My Soul a Home": Gutzon's and Mary's Borgland

"The acquisition of Borgland, his Stamford property, in 1910 gave the artist a sense of success and accomplishment. He set about improving it by building an enormous studio made of local granite. It included a huge fireplace and was big enough to accommodate his ever-larger works. Local laborers were recruited to pose for him and the town was soon full of rumor and gossip about the famous new resident. (left: Gutzon Borglum discussing the construction of his Stamford studio (c. 1910), Courtesy of Mary Borglum Vhay)

By all accounts the Stamford years were among the happiest for Gutzon and Mary, especially after the births of their children, Lincoln and Mary Ellis. Their hospitality was legendary and Borgland was to welcome a steady stream of dignitaries, young artists, writers, and performers."

 

Public Heroes, Public Monuments

"Although Borglum spent considerable time working on his "pipe dreams," he had difficulty finding buyers for them. He soon realized, however, that enterprising sculptors could make a reputation and a good living working on the numerous public monuments being erected because of a resurgence in civic and nationalist pride.

This trend, known first as the American Renaissance, later as the Civil Works era, and finally as "the city beautiful" movement, had started shortly after the Civil War. It coincided with the concentration of great fortunes in the hands of individuals who could gain social recognition by sponsoring public monuments.

The dominant theme of most of these commissions was heroism and service in war or in public life, the qualities their sponsors viewed as most worthy of public recognition. The monuments both reflected and helped shape the ideals of the nation."

 

In Search of Lincoln's Features

"Among the heroes being celebrated in public monuments, few were as prevalent as Abraham Lincoln. His popularity was particularly strong around 1909, the centenary of his birth. Artists vied with each other trying to prove that their version of Lincoln was the best. In 1907 Borglum had made a colossal head of Lincoln which, at Teddy Roosevelt's urging, was shown at the White House and eventually donated to the United States Capitol Building by Eugene Meyer. Much admired by Lincoln's son, Robert, this sculpture helped cement Borglum's reputation as a monumental sculptor." (left: Gutzon Borglum with his Colossal Lincoln, The Borglum Archives)


Aviation: Heroes and Scandals

"Only a few years after the short, tentative flight of Kitty Hawk, a great deal of work was being done on the military applications of the new discovery. An early aviation enthusiast, Borglum had himself tried his hand at the design of airplane parts. He met the Wright Brothers and participated in one of their military demonstrations." (left: Gutzon Borglum in Stanford Studio working on a model of Aviator (monument to Jim McConnell), c. 1918, The Borglum Archives)

 

 

Saints, Warriors and Statesmen

"Borglum was highly suited to the competitive environment surrounding the contracts for public buildings and monuments...Between 1905 and 1927 he would produce one hundred figures for the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, in New York City; the Colossal and the Sealed Lincolns; the massive Wars of America monument for the city of Newark, New Jersey; two versions of his General Philip Sheridan; the Wheeler Fountain in Bridgeport, Connecticut; the Monument to James McConnell for the University of Virginia; The Trail Drivers Memorial for San Antonio, Texas; and numerous small commissions, which he called his "bill payers." He was also to redesign and repair the torch of the Statue of Liberty in New York's harbor and make a group of gargoyles for Princeton University."

The Next Step: Mountain Carving

Borglum had always tried to express the meaning of his artworks through their size. In 1915 he took this principle to an extreme when asked to design a monument to the bravery of the Southern soldier. This ideologically-charged monument was to be known as Stone Mountain. The federal government agreed to help sponsor the project through the minting of a special Stone Mountain half-dollar coin. Originally sponsored by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the site soon became one of the main rallying centers of the newly energized Ku Klux Klan. (left: Generals Jackson and Lee (Sketch for Stone Mountain) c. 1916, charcoal on paper, SMNC, Pierre Dupuy)

To Borglum, the cause the monument was meant to celebrate was too large to be reflected in an ordinary way. Quickly dismissing his sponsors' original proposal as inadequate, he replaced it with his vision of a large Southern army cut on the north face of Stone Mountain.

The added dimensions meant that the project would have an enormous cost. Although Borglum spent considerable energies fundraising for It, major differences with the monument's commissioners eventually led to his dismissal."

 

A Monument Fit For the Country: Mount Rushmore

"Once planned as a monument to the heroes of the West, the meaning of Mount Rushmore changed under Borglum's leadership. He intended it to represent the essence of a great nation. Responding to the United States' emergence as a world power after World War I, Borglum vowed to create a monument "as big as the country itself."

At Mount Rushmore Borglum used skills he had improved since Stone Mountain, including highly accurate dynamite charges. The carving of the monument, however, experienced numerous delays. They were caused largely by the need to raise huge sums of money during the Depression but also by red tape, bureaucratic infighting, and Borglum's involvement in too many areas of the project.

At his death in 1941 the monument was unfinished. His son Lincoln was charged with completing the work in progress. Most of the monument, however, was left as the artist left it and no attempt was made to execute his entire design."

Rushmore in Its Creator's Mind

"Borglum' s main purpose at Mount Rushmore was to provide an enduring testimony of the special nature of the United States. He worried that future civilizations would misunderstand the monument and, thus, the country that had inspired it...Although the artist made numerous changes to Mount Rushmore's design, he fought tenaciously to protect his basic concept of the monument, resisting numerous attempts to alter it. From the beginning, people everywhere have given their own meaning to Mount Rushmore. Many see it as a portrait gallery of the best presidents the country has had. However, Mount Rushmore is an original work of art with its maker's own meaning and design."

"Out of Rushmore's Shadow: The Artistic Development of Gutzon Borglum" is supported by a grant from the Connecticut Humanities Council. Additional funding was received from The Fairfield County Foundation, the Fowler Family, The Louis J. Kuriansky Foundation, The Mabel Burchard Fischer Grant Foundation, Poundridge Nurseries, Inc,The Daniel K. and Betty Roberts Family Foundation, The Rich Foundation, Key Bank and Champion International Corporation. Text and Images courtesy of Stamford Historical Society.

Editor's note: RL readers may enjoy:

and this book by Rex Alan Smith:

The Carving of Mount Rushmore, By Rex Alan Smith, Published 1994, ISBN: 978-1-55859-665-8. (online book excerpt from Abbeville Press) (right: catalogue front cover courtesy Abbeville Press)

Read more about the Stamford Museum and Nature Center in Resource Library.

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For further biographical information on selected artists cited in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 10/26/10


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