PRINT Summer 1985


The Carving Of Mount Rushmore

The Carving Of Mount Rushmore.

By Rex Alan Smith, New York: Abbeville Press, 1985, 415 pp., 66 black and white illustrations.

American history; art in public places; the artist in American society; history, theory, and technique of monumental sculpture: if any of these topics interests you, read Rex Alan Smith’s The Carving of Mount Rushmore. It is a wonderful, detailed account of one of the biggest outdoor sculpture projects we have. With a keen eye to the questions and problems involved in such a feat, Smith’s book offers so much good factual information about the financing, politics, and personalities involved that it provides an excellent outline for undertaking something even a fraction the size. Certainly it raises issues pertaining to today’s debate about public art.

Evenhandedly Smith couples the grandest daydreams and ideals with personal anecdotes and kicky happenstance in explaining how a thing like the Mount Rushmore Monument came to pass. For example, Smith recounts in humorous detail how President Calvin Coolidge caught a basketful of trout on his first attempt at fishing in the Black Hills of South Dakota in the summer of 1927 (the Dakotans had packed the stream with liver-fed breeder fish), and as a result came to love the place; he stayed on to appear at a dedication ceremony for the fledgling Rushmore project—giving a boost to future fund-raising. Smith even tries to piece together the answer to perhaps the commonest question about the work: how did Theodore Roosevelt get in there? (Both Gutzon Borglum, the monument’s sculptor, and South Dakota Senator Peter Norbeck, one of its most ardent promoters, were avid Roosevelt supporters.)

In a twangy, storytelling style Smith draws us a picture of Midwestern practicality shaking hands with dreams of glory in a great American adventure in art; the photos alone are worth the price of admission.

Judith Shea