Art Americana: Carved in Stone

There are certain monuments that are so identified with the United States and so ingrained in our consciousness that it’s hard to believe they weren’t always there. But the Statue of Liberty and especially Mount Rushmore are relatively new to the country.

In the 1920s, a man stood gazing at Cougar Mountain in South Dakota. It was an ancient part of the landscape of the Black Hills of South Dakota, but the man looking at the mountain so intently had a vision of something very different.

Cougar Mountain prior to metamorphosing into Mount Rushmore

The idea of a Mt. Rushmore that featured faces carved into the granite face gazing at the horizon was first conceived by Doane Robinson, a South Dakota historian. Senator Peter Norbeck of South Dakota sponsored the project and secured government funding.

Robinson, wanted the mountain to feature Old West persons of importance, specifically Buffalo Bill Cody, Lewis and Clark, Sacagawea, and Crazy Horse. The sculptor that designed the monument as we know it was Gutzon Borglum. He decided the heroes of the Old West would not have the broad appeal of popular U.S. presidents, and the final design featured the visages of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. There was no doubt the presidents were appealing to Borglum; he named his own son Lincoln.

 

It took 14 years to complete. This may seem like a long time, but carving in granite is not easy. To give you an idea of the scale, each president’s head was 60 feet tall. The project officially began construction in 1927, and by 1939 the presidents’ faces were complete.

In this photo, Lincoln looks like he’s wearing a face mask. He’d fit right in today.

 

Thomas Jefferson
Hanging out with Lincoln

 

Roosevelt under construction

 

Washington

Borglum planned for each of the presidents to be depicted down to the waist, but when the funding fell through, the project was declared complete on Halloween of 1941. Gutzon Borglum had died seven months earlier, still expecting the presidents to be depicted from head to waist.

 

Sunset at Mount Rushmore

Fun fact: Crazy Horse still got his rock memorial, and just 17 miles away. Construction started in 1948 but it’s not finished and may never be. The Crazy Horse memorial is huge already, but the planned dimensions are 641 feet long and 563 feet high. The arm of Crazy Horse will be 263 feet long and the head 87 feet high; 45% larger than the presidents’ faces on Mount Rushmore.

Crazy Horse’s face

 

The Statue of Liberty is now one of the most famous symbols of America. But the French who gave it to us meant it to symbolize the friendship between our great countries, so it is a symbol of both friendship and liberty. Not a bad combination!

The Statue of Liberty’s face

Frédéric Bartholdi designed the Statue of Liberty in France, The colossal statue had to be dismantled to transport it to New York. It arrived in more than 300 pieces of copper and iron in New York City Harbor in 1885.

Statue of Liberty’s toes

The torch-bearing arm of the Statue of Liberty was displayed at Philadelphia’s Centennial Exposition in 1876 and then at Madison Square Park at 23rd Street from 1876-1882 to generate funds to pay for labor needed to reassemble the Statue labor. It cost 50¢ to climb to the torch balcony!

The Statue of Liberty’s torch in Madison Square
Original construction of the hand of Lady Liberty
Statue of Liberty’s head

 

Note the statue was still a coppery dark bronzed color. 134 years out in the elements have created her instantly recognizable green hue.

The Statue of Liberty was inaugurated on Liberty Island, New York in October 1886.

2 Comments

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    • Thank you! It’s kind of incredible to think that the Statue of Liberty hasn’t been here that long, comparatively. People alive today can remember a time before Mount Rushmore 🌅

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