Wednesday 1 October 2008

Cut from the rock

Last Monday night BBC Radio 3 broadcast a programme in which the Classical sculptor, Alexander Stoddart, considered how the Mount Rushmore monument in South Dakota works as a sculpture. Stoddart expressed a low opinion of Gutzon Borglum’s sculptural competence but found that the power and scale of the setting of the monument enabled him to transcend his limitations on this occasion. There is symmetry in the way that this monument to America’s greatest presidents was inaugurated by Calvin Coolidge, recognised by many as the worst of American presidents. I read once that, as Washington was commemorated by a 555ft. obelisk, then Coolidge deserved nothing less than a 555ft. hole in the ground. The present incumbent may have an even stronger claim to this melancholy distinction and only 3 months remain in which he can fix his place in posterity. What is certain is that this monument has become an indispensable element in the Great American Iconography and that’s a good reason to display this postcard folder from 1949, some 8 years after completion of the project.

Blasting, drilling, wedging and chiseling went on for 14 years and the finished monument has some unique features including 22 inch projections around the iris of the presidential eyes to reflect light and produce an illusion of sparkle. Teddy Roosevelt’s spectacles present another very satisfying illusion by means of carved marks that define the form by the impact on the flesh above and below the eyes. As for scale, Borglum calculated that if the figures had been portrayed in their entirety they would have each been 450ft. in height.

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