Rushmore sculptor studied in Kan.

03/01/2010 12:00 AM

03/01/2010 12:08 AM

He was only in Kansas for a short while.

But the man who created one of the largest and most iconic sculptures in American history lived and studied at St. Mary's College, a Jesuit school west of Topeka.

Gutzon Borglum, creator of the sculpted faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln on Mount Rushmore, came to Kansas in the 1880s to study.

He was born near Bear Lake, Idaho, in March 1867. His father, James Borglum, had emigrated from Denmark to the United States a few years earlier. The family moved several times as Borglum was growing up — first to Utah and then to Fremont, Neb., by the time he was 7.

A decade later found him in Topeka, beginning a career specializing in creating art with Western subjects — cowboys and Indians, and animals and life found in the American West.

While in Kansas, Borglum did two pastoral landscapes used to decorate Topeka stock breeder Erasmus Bennett's home, according to documents from the Kansas State Historical Society.

Soon after Borglum received the equivalent of a high school diploma, he moved to California. He worked first as a lithographer's apprentice and then opened a small studio where he did commissioned artwork. In 1888, he did a portrait of Gen. John C. Fremont that became the turning point in his career.

The painting earned Borglum recognition and prompted him to go to Europe to study. He trained in Paris at the Academie Julian, where he became friends with Auguste Rodin, who carved "The Thinker."

At each step of his life, Borglum defined his impressions of art and how they related to American life. He was once quoted: "Art in America should be American, drawn from American sources, memorializing American achievement."

He began exploring what he called "the emotional impact of volume."

In 1901, Borglum returned to the United States, where he began creating large pieces of artwork, such as the "Mares of Diomedes," which was accepted by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. He did an equestrian bronze of General Phil Sheridan, a memorial to Pickett's Charge on the Gettysburg Battlefield and a six-ton marble bust of Abraham Lincoln.

By the mid-1920s, Borglum was commissioned to do work at Mount Rushmore. The actual carving began Oct. 4, 1927. The first face — George Washington's — was dedicated July 4, 1934.

Borglum was still working on Mount Rushmore when he died of an embolism in March 1941.

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