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Pawnee Bill Ranch

Gutzon Borglum

2014-01-17

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Anna: Thank you for downloading the Pawnee Bill Ranch Podcast, brought to you by the staff of the Pawnee Bill Ranch.

Anna: Welcome to the Pawnee Bill Ranch Podcast. I'm Anna Davis, Pawnee Bill Ranch Historical Interpreter.

Erin: And I'm Erin Brown, Pawnee Bill Ranch Curator.

Anna: Above the Black Hills of South Dakota, a group of workmen began their day by climbing 506 steps to the peak of the mountain. Miners, sculptors, rock climbers, they were men who never thought for a moment about the monumental task they were about to undertake. Every day they worked, using dynamite to blast away the thick granite face of the mountain. Every day they used jackhammers that would rattle their bones to powder to give life to faces made of stone.

Erin: The work was hard, the dust was thick and merciless, the noise was incredible and many quit after one day on the job. It wasn't really the fact that they were suspended on the side of a mountain, held there by two thin cables and a wooden seat that drove them away. For many, the very personality of the man that was running the project was too much for them to handle. He was a gruff perfectionist with a swift temper who never minced words but it was in his great imagination that one of the icons of the American identity was born.

Anna: I am extremely excited for our subject today, Erin. I love art and I love art history and I find myself taking time out of my day to study the artwork in Pawnee Bill's mansion. There is something so special about the sculpture of Pawnee Bill that sits in the living room today. It was done by American artist Gutzon Borglum and you can see the perfection that he strove for as well as the thought that went into every single piece of the bust. In a way you can see a lot of the same style that went into the carving of Mount Rushmore, which was being carved at the same time as our sculpture.

Erin: I agree. I think Borglum's bust of Pawnee Bill is one of our most special artifacts, and I like that we're taking this opportunity to talk in depth about the artist who created an artifact that figures so prominently in our collection. Besides, Borglum is just a hoot. His life is crazy! We thought it would be hard to top the lives that the Judy family led, but I think that Gutzon Borglum might very well give them a run for their money. He was described by his contemporaries as an outspoken individual. He was egotistical. He was an idealist who was critical of those that did not share in his high standards of art. He had very firm opinions about how the world worked and at the core of the story I think you will find an artist with a tortured soul, just constantly striving to be the best that he could be.  He was a critically acclaimed sculptor who reveled in the highest praise but then saw everything fall apart as he took on projects that would become larger than life.

Anna: The epitaph on his tomb in Los Angeles, California gives him this tribute: "His birthplace was Idaho. California first taught him art. Then France who first gave him fame. His genius for the exquisite as for the colossal gave permanence in bronze and marble to moods of beauty or passion to figures of legend and history. As partier he stripped corruption bare. As statesman he toiled for equality in the rights of man he made the mountain chant remember. These giant souls set America free and kept her free. Hold fast your sacred heritage. Americans' remember. Remember!" That's…quite a statement.

Erin: Oh, my.

Anna: And as we talk about him, you'll realize how odd some of these statements really are.

Erin: It's like, who's buried here? That is a monumental epitaph. I told you before mine is going to say "Here lies Erin Brown. The laundry is done." Not remember Americans!

Anna: Remember! So, today, we are going to be discussing the crazy life and legacy of one of the greatest American sculptures of the 20th Century…Mr. Gutzon Borglum.

Erin:  We do have a warning before we start this podcast though. Gutzon Borglum's life was full of controversy and he was not always the most politically correct individual. We are going to be covering some very contentious topics in today's podcast such as the Ku Klux Klan, the use of sacred American Indian land in the building of Mount Rushmore, and Mormon polygamy. We're not giving personal opinions here, we're just giving historical fact.

Anna: Gutzon Borglum was the son of Danish immigrants. His father, Jens (sometimes known as James) Borglum, had immigrated to the United States in 1864 shortly after the outbreak of war in his native Denmark. And I was unable to find what war that was, but it just said the outbreak of war. From the family papers of Solon Borglum, Gutzon's younger brother, it is stated that instead of participating as a soldier in this war, Jens married Ida Caroline Mikkelsen, a woman from a very educated German family, and the couple moved to the U.S. to better their prospects. Shortly before moving to America, Jens and Ida were introduced to the Mormon religion by missionaries and they became converts. Jens spent his entire life traveling from place to place, filled with a wanderlust that was never satisfied. This would put a strain on his family in later years, but they spent a good deal of their time moving around the American West. As soon as the family was settled in Nebraska in 1864, Jens became a practicing polygamist. And he moved his family Utah and Idaho where he could practice polygamy among other likeminded individuals.

Erin: Jens's second wife, Christina Mikkelsen, was the sister of his wife Ida. They were literally sister wives. Christina and Jens were sealed to each other in the Salt Lake Endowment House on November 25, 1865. John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum was born to the couple on March 25, 1867 in St. Charles, Idaho Territory. The only other child born from this union was Gutzon's brother Solon, who was born on December 22, 1868 in Utah. By 1871, Jens had decided that he wanted to leave the Mormon church and move to Omaha, Nebraska. Once the decision was made, Jens took his wife Ida and his eight children with him, leaving Christina alone behind in Utah. This traumatic event left a long lasting mark on the life of young Gutzon. None of the Borglums were associated with the Mormon religion after this break from the church. In fact, both Gutzon and Solon would invent stories about their early lives to completely eliminate the fact that they were born as the result of a polygamist relationship.

Anna: And there's no evidence that Gutzon ever saw his birth mother again.

Erin: Wow, that's really sad.

Anna: It is really sad. And understandably Gutzon's childhood was an unhappy one. He started at the age of five to run away from home for short periods of time and while he was running away he would work different jobs to support himself. Here's where the historic record differs from actual fact. Some sources state that he was enrolled in a boarding school in Kansas at this time while other sources state that the entire Borglum family moved briefly to California. Whatever the situation was, it was around the age of 16 that Gutzon himself settled in California. There is a lot of information that is hazy when it comes to Gutzon's early life. People said that he liked to tinker with his own legend when he was still alive. He would take years off his age and change the story of his birth and who his parents were and he would just try to create a better story. He had this drive within him to make himself something more than what he was and that ambition was what followed him through his entire life.

Erin: While in California, he started to study art full time. His father had been a woodcarver in his early life before becoming a doctor and that time spent as an artist really influenced both Gutzon and his brother, Solon. He excelled at his craft and the work that he produced while living there really showed his drive to give his all when it came to art. He fully embraced this California lifestyle and started submitting his works to magazines and showing in galleries alongside his contemporaries like William Keith and Virgil Williams. They drew their inspiration from nature and the American West and Borglum would come to idealize American heroes.

Anna: Now one of the artists that he formed a partnership with was Elizabeth Jaynes Putnam (known to her friends as Lisa). She was a divorcee who was 18 years his senior. She was a painter in her own right and she took Borglum on as a protégée and began to manage his career. In 1889 love blossomed and Gutzon and Lisa were married and around this time he started to paint portraits of high profile individuals like General John C. Fremont. This led to connections to people like Theodore Roosevelt and Leland Stanford, who was the founder of Stanford University. Gutzon realized that to be an artist, you had to have wealthy patrons, because you couldn't make enough money just out on your own. His entire life would be spent trying to get these influential people to give him money so that he could continue on with his work.

Erin:   Shortly after their marriage, the Borglums moved to Paris in search of academic training. In the world of art, if you wanted to be an up and coming "it" artist, you had to go to Europe. Several of his paintings were accepted into the 1891 and 1892 Paris Salons, which were like these big art showings. Lisa began exhibiting her works in Spain at the same time. The outlook was very bright for this couple, but the competition in Paris was intense and finding paying patrons was proving incredibly difficult. To make matters worse, this was putting a strain on his marriage to Lisa and their marriage began to suffer. In the early days, they had a mutual respect for each other based on passion for art and their talent, but as Gutzon began to grow more skilled in his craft, he realized that he was unhappy and he and Lisa separated in 1901.

Anna: It's very sad, and I don't want to say that Gutzon Borglum was an art snob…

Erin: But he was.

Anna: But he was an art snob.

Erin: And he thought that he was getting a little too good for Lisa.

Anna: Exactly. Borglum was about to meet the man that would influence his career for the rest of his life though. His brother, Solon, had established an extremely successful career as a sculptor in America. Some say the reason why Gutzon quit painting in order to focus on his sculpting was to capitalize on his brother's success. Basically, he's Solon Borglum, I'm Gutzon Borglum, I'm just as good. And he really wanted to prove that he was the better of the two, and that sibling rivalry would kind of spur them on for the rest of their lives.  During the waning years of his marriage to Lisa, Gutzon met famed sculptor Auguste Rodin in Paris. To say he was motivated would be an understatement. Rodin's style of sculpting gave Gutzon the inspiration that he would carry with him for the rest of his life.

Erin: In 1901, Gutzon boarded a boat back to the United States to continue his sculpting career. On the boat, he met a woman named Mary Montgomery. Mary was the daughter of Christian missionaries and she had grown up in Turkey. She had just completed a Doctorate in History at the University of Berlin, one of the first women to do such. She was known as the most accomplished woman in the world in Oriental languages and she was fluent in Arabic, Greek, Egyptian, Hebrew, Sanskrit, and Turkish. I mean, she was amazing. It was love at first sight, and although Borglum was still married, the pair became inseparable. It was a relationship built on shared passions and Gutzon was really attracted to her intelligence. She had a beautiful mind! Mary would say later that Gutzon was the man that she could always argue with, sometimes successfully.

Anna: I guess that's what makes a successful marriage…if you can argue and sometimes be right. Mary Ellis Borglum Vhey, his daughter, described her father as literally being shot out of cannon when he arrived back in America in 1901. He was inspired. He sculpted and designed 100 statues for Saint John the Divine in New York City. He was chosen to carve the Lincoln statue in the Rotunda of the United States Capital. He was the first living artist that the Metropolitan Museum of Art had ever purchased from during his life time. He also won the Logan Medal of the Arts, surpassing his brother Solon in success as was his goal. So he actually did beat his brother! In 1908, he won a national competition which placed his carving of General Philip Sheridan in the middle of Sheridan Circle in Washington, D.C. After this carving won the contest, an art critic  was stated as saying that "as a sculptor Gutzon Borglum was no longer rumor…he was a fact." He also had a legendary temper that would rear its ugly head from time to time. The St. John's job ended when Borglum smashed the casts of angels that he was making after he was criticized that they were too 'lustfully attractive'.

Erin: Oh my goodness.

Anna: That's like a five year old! Like, I'm going to take my ball and go home now.

Erin: Tantrum, tantrum! That would be a theme that followed him throughout his career. St. John's would not be the last time he smashed his original works.

Anna: Oh, no.

Erin: On May 20, 1909, Gutzon married Mary after being granted a divorce by his first wife, Lisa. The pair would have two children, Lincoln and Mary Ellis. Borglum bought a house and farm in Stamford, Connecticut which the growing family named Borgland. Borglum believed that his new house and fame gave himself the legitimacy that he had never had growing up. The Stamford years were the happiest for the Borglum family. Gutzon himself is quoted as saying "I built my soul a home." And we both commented about how much we loved that quote. Everybody's soul needs a home!

Anna: Especially for a tortured artist. But the weird thing is, I can't find any information about Borgland today.

Erin: Yeah, Borgland is like vaporized.

Anna: So, if any of the listeners out there know anything about Borgland in Stamford, Connecticut, please let us know because we would like to know what happened to this property.  Now, in 1915, The United Daughters of the Confederacy chose Borglum to carve a monument to Robert E. Lee on Stone Mountain in Georgia. Borglum had always been very vocal about his views on "nativism". And nativism was a big ideal at this time in American history. He believed that being an American meant that a person was born of American parents. It seemed like his belief completely was separated from his own experience. He disliked immigrants, even though his parents had been immigrants from Denmark.

Erin: Hello!

Anna: He admired what groups like the Ku Klux Klan stood for and he even joined the organization briefly during his time in Georgia. The KKK was actually the main financial backer of the Stone Mountain project.

Erin: That's unbelievable. I think that his dislike of immigrants is definitely grounds for some psychoanalyzing, but he, you know, he made many choices throughout his life that were questionable. Borglum had radical ideas when it came to people of other races and we don't have any way of knowing if he was actively discriminating against people or held prejudicial views, or if he just felt like the KKK was an opportunistic thing. Some people have suggested that his joining of the KKK was simply a way for him to bond with his patrons and possibly get more money.

Anna: Now, it was said that he did have a black chauffer during much of his life and the man was very long suffering. But they said that he didn't really discriminate on him because he was black. People said that he simply didn't have time for anybody, white or black, because unless they had money to give him for his art, he didn't have time for you.

Erin: Yeah, there's probably a lot of truth to that. If you had money, he probably liked you. The original plan for Stone Mountain was for Borglum to carve a 20 ft. high bust of Robert. E. Lee on the side of the 800 ft. rock face. Borglum accepted the commission, but he told the assembly "Ladies, a twenty foot head of Lee on that mountainside would look like a postage stamp on a barn door."

Anna: How do you tell your backers that? They're giving you money!

Erin: He knew best! The idea was morphed into a high relief frieze of Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Stonewall Jackson leading a legion of troops. It was the largest carving done since the age of Rome.

Anna: Stone Mountain had its problems from the very beginning. The carving was stopped by WWI and Borglum found it incredibly difficult to trace the figures onto the massive stone face he was working on. So he had actually had to develop a magic lantern that was large enough to project his sketch onto the mountain. On June 23, 1923 the first cut on Stone Mountain was made by Borglum and on January 19, 1924, Lee's head was unveiled, just in time for the General's birthday.

Erin: Stone Mountain began to run into financial difficulties and Borglum's personality created tension between himself and the Daughters of the Confederacy. He was a perfectionist who demanded that his way be the only way. He drove workers away from the sight and caused a lot of trouble for the financial backers. In March of 1925, Borglum smashed his plaster models once again and left Georgia.

Anna: He took his ball and went home.

Erin: The project did continue, although sculptor Augustus Lukeman began his work by clearing the site of all of Borglum's sculpting. Despite the fact that he did not complete Stone Mountain, Borglum used his knowledge gained at the site for his next big project: Mount Rushmore.

Anna: In 1925, he moved to Texas to work on a monument commissioned by the Trail Drivers Association that honored the men that had worked on the Western trails. Although the cast was completed in 1925, he had no money to complete the project. I believe the project was finally done in 1940, however.  He lived in the Menger Hotel in San Antonio, Texas, which was where a lot of the artists of that time were kind of congregating at and he set up an artist's studio there. We know that the Lillies enjoyed wintering down in South Texas and it's highly likely that they met Borglum while on vacation in San Antonio. And San Antonio was actually where Pawnee Bill's bust was created in 1932. He also worked very briefly on plans to beautify the Corpus Christie waterfront, but that plan was never realized. In fact, Lincoln in later years would go through and carve the statues himself and he would place them on another mountain in South Dakota. It seemed that Gutzon was on a downward spiral until South Dakota state historian Doane Robinson reached out to Borglum with an interesting idea…let's carve a sculpture on the side of a mountain to promote the state's tourism.

Erin: Now that's a big idea!

Anna: That is a big idea.

Erin: I love this guy's thinking outside of the box. The sight of Mount Rushmore was originally known by the Lakota Sioux as Six Grandfathers. The mountain had been seized from the Lakota during the Great Sioux War of 1876, even though an earlier treaty had deeded the Black Hills region to the Lakota in perpetuity. That's kind of sad story that repeats itself throughout our American history.

Anna: It really is. And that's where a lot of the controversy of Mount Rushmore comes from today.

Erin: Yeah, because it was the religious land for the Lakota and the choice of Mount Rushmore it's still controversial. On March 3, 1925 Congress authorized the Mount Rushmore National Memorial Commission and President Calvin Coolidge insisted that along with George Washington, two Republicans and a Democrat needed to be portrayed on the mountain. Borglum chose Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln for their contribution to American history and for their place in American history.

Anna: Didn't hurt that Teddy Roosevelt was his friend though.

Erin: Right.

Anna: Between October 4, 1927 and October 31, 1941, Borglum, his son Lincoln, and 400 unskilled workers carved the 60 ft high faces of the four American presidents on the sheer rock face. The project was mammoth and Borglum was his usual cranky self during the time. He demanded perfection from his workers, he scaled the rock faces of the presidents himself, and he changed things as he went, which meant more work for everyone involved. He would run workers away, he would yell at them, he would fire them without though and that would leave his son Lincoln to chase the men down and beg them to come back because they needed these men to complete the project. These men were suspended over the edge of the mountain on thin cables.  They were blasting with dynamite. They were pounding away with jackhammers held in their hands as they were suspended over that huge distance.

Erin: That's crazy to think about.

Anna: These men were loyal to the Borglums, and amazingly enough, there wasn't a single fatality during the Mount Rushmore project.

Erin: That's unbelievable.

Anna: The entire operation ran over budget, leaving Borglum to constantly beg for money from Congress, from the state of South Dakota, from different backers. He even mortgaged Borgland a few times to simply continue on. The financial stress added to his moods and the entire time he worked on Rushmore, he worked on other commissions to keep a steady stream of money flowing in. Basically, if someone had the time and the cash, he would carve them.

Erin: George Washington was revealed to the public on July 4, Independence Day, 1934. The face of Thomas Jefferson had to be moved after 18 months of carving after the granite proved too soft to continue the project. His face was blasted away and moved to its current location and it was dedicated on August 30, 1936. Abraham Lincoln, Borglum's personal hero and namesake for his son, was dedicated on September 17, 1937. And Theodore Roosevelt, his friend, was dedicated on July 2, 1939. The original plan for the mountain was to carve full bodies for each president. I mean, can you imagine? But there wasn't enough money for that. What was supposed to have cost $100,000 ended up costing a whopping $989,992. Borglum swore to keep going, even if he had to fund it himself. He was obsessed.

Anna: He loved Mount Rushmore so much.

Erin: He did.

Anna: On March 6, 1941, Gutzon Borglum died in Chicago following complications from surgery. His son, Lincoln, was charged with completing his father's work. Lincoln worked for a few months on refining some of the features of the presidents. He fixed Lincoln's lapel, he did some work on the eyes and the mouths but he decided that his father's master work to remain as it was. On October 31, 1941, Lincoln Borglum ended the work at Mount Rushmore and declared that the monument was complete.

Erin: Mount Rushmore is no doubt Borglum's greatest legacy and it stands as a testimony to the creative vision of one of America's most talented sculptors. Fittingly, the piece is not without controversy, much like the life of the artist that created it. We are reminded of Borglum every time we see that beautiful bust he created of Pawnee Bill and the fact that he and Pawnee Bill's lives converged and resulted in one of the most amazing works of art in our own collection is fascinating.

Anna: That's right. And I would highly suggest that if you want more information on the Mount Rushmore project and about Gutzon Borglum, I would definitely suggest watching the American Experience episode on Mount Rushomre. It was produced by PBS. You can watch it online. There's footage of them carving the mountain. They talk to some of the workers on the mountain. They also talk to Mary Ellis Borglum Vhey, who was his daughter. It's a really fascinating topic. There's a lot that we couldn't include in today's episode because it would have gone way too long. But as always, we thank you for listening to our podcast. I'm Anna Davis.

Erin: And I'm Erin Brown, We hope that you are all enjoying a great start to your New Year, and we will be back next month with the story of one of the Wild West's most colorful cowgirls. Goodbye for now.

Anna: The Pawnee Bill Ranch is owned and operated by the Oklahoma Historical Society. For more information, go to www.pawneebillranch.com or find us on Facebook under Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum.