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Mount Rushmore and Gutzon Borglum

Located in South Dakota, Mount Rushmore was crafted at roughly 60-ft. high of granite faces depict four U.S. presidents: George Washington; Thomas Jefferson; Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. The sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, designed the Mount Rushmore in 1925 at age 58. He chose the four presidents as they symbolize the principles of the liberty and freedom whereas the U.S.A as a nation was founded.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

First of the principles is the struggle for the independence and the birth of the Republic that relied heavily on the George Washington’s presidency. Then the second is the territorial expansion of the country as represented by the presidency of Thomas Jefferson. Abraham Lincoln, the third to symbolize the permanent union of the States. The fourth principle was represented by Theodore Roosevelt for the 20th-century role of the United States in world affairs and the rights of the common man.

Obviously, craving human faces onto a granite mountain was a dangerous project. It was reported that 90% of the carving done by dynamite after Borglum and his workers realized that using jackhammers were too slow. Even then, it took 14 years to complete the Mount Rushmore (1927 to 1941). Despite the dangerous tasks that the workers faced, there was no single death accident in 14 years of the making Mouth Rushmore. Sadly, many of the workers inhaled silica dust that led them to later die from the lung disease.

Gutzon Borglum

Borglum died before finishing the monument, and his work continued by his son, Lincoln Borglum. It was reported that Gutzon Borglum was in favor for white supremacist ideas. An American of Danish origin, Borglum wrote a letter that he fretted about a “mongrel horde” overrunning the “Nordic” purity of the West, and once said, “I would not trust an Indian, offhand, 9 out of 10, where I would not trust a white man 1 out of 10.” According to Smithsonian’s article, Borglum was found to align himself with Ku Klux Klan as well.

I found it was shocking to learn Borglum’s past history, a sculptor who created an impressive monument and had a pride of leadership that endorsed the principles of the liberty and freedom in the U.S., a country with enormous diversity. A paradox? Or maybe it justifies an idiom in Indonesia, “Tidak ada gading yang tidak retak“, “There is no ivory that is not cracked”. Everyone has stages in their life. Nothing and no one is perfect in this world, and perhaps that’s why pencils have erasers. While there are erasers, it’s also a matter of forgiveness to the imperfection of someone’s past and still pays respect to the magnitude work that he did to the country.


  1. I’ve never really thought much about the monument other than to know of its existence, Indah, but it must have been a phenomenal undertaking. I don’t think the politics of the man are very relevant. Art is art and America today has many issues. 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

  2. I agree with Jo that today’s and as the past’s America has many faces. Nevertheless, it’s very sad that white supremacy or other racist movements still is all too alive and well. As for Borglum I guess he did choose presidents for his grand sculpture that worked as rolle models for him, too.

  3. A powerful monument. One more thing to see… Tidak ada ganing? No there is ivory? 😉
    Terima kasih, Indah. I’ve learned new words. And wisdom.
    (And ‘No’ is a powerful word)
    Apa kabar?

  4. Informative post. In my opinion we shouldn’t try to destroy or deny history. It’s akin to the Taliban and ISIS destroying ancient statues and temples. We should study and learn from history.

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