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Mount Rushmore’s Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt (SOLD)
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Casts of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt from Mount Rushmore. On verso, the Lincoln head has been signed by the artist, Gutzon Borglum; the Roosevelt head bears a period provenance note: “MOUNT RUSHMORE MEMORIAL This is one of the few models taken from the first and final casting of Gutzon Borglum’s Head of Theodore Roosevelt.” (It is entirely possible that the Roosevelt head is signed beneath the affixed note.)

[MOUNT RUSHMORE.] GUTZON BORGLUM. Sculptures. “Abraham Lincoln,” signed by the artist, plaster cast, painted ochre, ca. 1927-1941. 4½ x 3 in. “Theodore Roosevelt,” plaster cast, painted ochre, ca. 1927-1941. 4¾ x 3½ in.

Inventory #22295; 22295.01       SOLD — please inquire about other items

Historical Background

Located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Mount Rushmore has become a symbol of epic American grandeur and achievement. It took 14 years and the work of nearly 400 artisans and engineers to complete Gutzon Borglum’s monumental carvings of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt on the side of the mountain.

The project was initiated in 1923 by South Dakota historian Doane Robinson, who hoped the attraction would promote tourism in the state. Robinson envisioned the work as a procession of explorers and American Indian leaders, representing the opening of the American frontier. Borglum chose instead to picture four prominent American Presidents from the first century-and-a-half of U.S. history. Washington symbolized the country’s birth; Jefferson, its expansion; Lincoln, its preservation, and Roosevelt, its development. The site was dedicated as a national memorial in 1925, and the artist began the actual work on the 60-foot carvings two years later. He continued until his death in March of 1941. Borglum’s son Lincoln then carried on the work until the last day of drilling seven months later.

Borglum began by modeling maquettes that established the features of the individual heads and the overall relationship of the heads to each other. He then created larger models in a 1:12 scale—one inch on the model equaling one foot on the mountain. A “pointing system” was set up on both the models and the mountain to guide the workers as to where to remove rock, and how much. The method proved astonishingly accurate: A skilled worker, suspended from a “swing seat,” could drill and then dynamite the rock to within inches of the desired measurement. Ninety percent of the carving was done this way.

The exact date and circumstances under which these two small plaster casts were created is uncertain. They were likely made by Borglum to help raise funds for the project, which was beset with financial difficulties from the start. (Borglum signed a contract in 1934 in which he agreed to make signed plaster casts of the heads, to be used in the production of souvenirs.[1])  Or they may have been created for display in the “Sculptor’s Studio,” the on-site atelier used by Borglum during the creation of Mount Rushmore.

In a 1984 article, the editors of the Lincoln Herald related another, intriguing story. They noted the sale offering of “a one-of-a-kind item … a five-inch long brown clay or plaster head of Lincoln signed on the back ‘Gutzon Borglum’ and initialed on the left cheek ‘G.B.’” The piece had been left to the current owner, Beverly Keller by an uncle, Harry Mole, a member of the Army Corps of Engineers at the Fourth Cavalry Post in Fort Meade, South Dakota. “Mr. Mole knew Borglum who, according to Ms. Keller, used to carry this head model with him during his work on Mount Rushmore.”[2]  Perhaps one or both of these small casts were used by the artist as touchstones during his long years on the mountain.

Gutzon Borglum (1867-1941) was an Idaho-born, Paris-trained artist famed for his monumental sculptures celebrating larger-than-life American public figures. In addition to Mount Rushmore, Borglum’s many noted works include a colossal head of Lincoln (1908; U.S. Capitol building); “Seated Lincoln” (1911; Newark, N.J.); the North Carolina Monument at the Gettysburg Battlefield (1929); and his carving of Confederates on Stone Mountain near Atlanta (1923-1925; unfinished and no longer extant). Irascible, opinionated, and fiercely nationalistic, the controversial sculptor sought to create art that was “American, drawn from American sources, [and] memorializing American achievement” (from a 1908 interview).

Condition

Light chipping, otherwise very good.



[2] Lincoln Herald (Summer 1984, vol. 86, no.2, p. 123).