A native Idahoan was responsible for one of America’s treasures: the U. S. presidents carved on Mount Rushmore. John Gutzon Borglum was born in a cabin near Bear Lake in 1867. His parents were Mormons from Denmark who were seeking a homestead.
The Bear Lake country didn’t satisfy the Borglums and they moved to Ogden, and then a few years later, to Nebraska. Gutzon, as he preferred to be known, attended school in Nebraska and college in Kansas. He  went to art schools in San Francisco and Paris. His specialties were painting and sculpture. Of interest, Gutzon’s younger brother Solon also became a respected sculptor. Art critics quickly recognized the merit of the   Borglum brothers’ work, and Gutzon’s creations were exhibited in Europe and England.
Borglum returned to America in 1901 and opened a studio in New York City. He sculpted busts of many American patriots. He defended America and its artists in the face of condescending criticism from some Europeans and American expatriates.
He wrote, “Art in America should be American, drawn from American sources, memorializing American achievement. . . .
We have not begun to realize that the things we desired honestly—liberty of conscience, freedom from European governments and from the stain of slavery were things to be proud of; that they are ours and that these things alone make us immortal; make us the envy of the world. If we have art of any kind. . . it should write them in bold lines across the pages of our history.”
The sculptor from Bear Lake was full of energy. He envisioned bigger challenges as he toyed with the idea of sculpting massive works from stone. His wife was a scholar of ancient civilizations, and the Borglums discussed an American version of the Sphinx—reviving the ancient Egyptian practice of sculpture on a grand scale.
Borglum set about learning the capabilities of the tools he would need: dynamite and jackhammers. He started small, with a six-ton block of marble which he turned into a likeness of Abraham Lincoln’s head. That work brought him a request to carve a monument to General Lee at Stone Mountain, Georgia. Borglum laid out the plan for Stone Mountain, but disputes with his backers prevented him from finishing the work. That left Borglum to search again for a mountain where he could sculpt a colossal monument to America.
Publicity about the project at Stone Mountain had gone throughout the nation, and a group of businessmen in South Dakota asked Borglum to visit the Black Hills. When Borglum reviewed the scenery, he was sold on the idea of placing a memorial to America’s presidents in South Dakota. From 1927 to 1941, Mount Rushmore was transformed into the largest sculpture in the world. Gutzon Borglum created dozens of artworks, but his effort at Mount Rushmore made him one of the great modelers of the heroic image of America.

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