Gutzon Borglum

Gutzon Borglum on Mount Rushmore!

Gutzon Borglum on Mount Rushmore!


In this important and revealing letter, famed sculptor Gutzon Borglum tells the director of the National Park Service that he has been underpaid for his work on Mount Rushmore because of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial Commission’s failure to live up to the stipulations of his original contract. Forced to spend more time directly supervising the work on Mount Rushmore, Borglum had to forego other lucrative sculpting work.


On July 12, 1937, the Commission met in Chicago to discuss a new contract for Borglum. Due to poor attendance, the group met as the Executive Committee. For reasons he outlined in this letter to the Park Service director, Borglum requested a 30 percent fee, rather than the 25 percent in the original contract. The Committee approved a new one-year contract at 25 percent, and the Department of the Interior approved it on November 12. Meanwhile, work on the memorial continued, and Borglum effectively worked from July to November without pay. On September 17, 1937, the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution, Borglum dedicated Abraham Lincoln’s sculpture on Mount Rushmore.


GUTZON BORGLUM, Typed Letter Signed, to Arno B. Cammerer, May 7, 1937, [Rapid City, South Dakota]. 5 pp., 8.5" x 11."  Holes punched in sides and top; top holes torn to edge of paper.



“I have come back to the Mountain, Mr. Cammerer, with a deep feeling of disappointment for I had hoped that I could return this Spring feeling that my efforts were truly appreciated and that I would be compensated for the extra time and expense to me which has been caused by the Commission’s failure to carry out its obligations under the existing agreement.” (p1)


“This work was undertaken by me with reluctance because of its remoteness and the time it would take if too much of my presence was required. I, therefore, stipulated before entering into the contract that I would undertake the work only upon condition that my former assistant at Stone Mountain, Mr. Jesse Tucker, a man of eleven years’ experience under my guidance in mountain sculpture, could be employed and placed in charge of the men and construction work, so as to minimize the amount of personal attention required of me.” (p2)


“The Commission agreed to employ Mr. Tucker and to pay him $7,500 per year if I reduced the usual author-sculptor’s compensation of 35% of the total cost of the work to 25% of the total cost of the work, and the amount of compensation to be paid to Mr. Tucker be not included in the cost of the work upon which the author-sculptor’s compensation was computed.” (p2-3)


“Within one year after the work had begun, Mr. Tucker resigned as a result of a quarrel with the resident Commissioner and I was obliged not only to take over his work but to advance money to the Commission in order to enable it to keep its obligations to Mr. Tucker. As there was no other man trained in mountain sculpture to be had, my labors were more than doubled and it became necessary that I take up my residence in the Black Hills and abandon other lucrative work in order that the work on Mount Rushmore might be carried on.” (p3)


“The above amount, i.e., $80,000, would compensate me for the extra work performed by me on account of Mr. Tucker’s resignation, but it does not include any compensation to me for the extra five years I have taken away from my other work and for which I have made no claim.” (p4)


“As the matter stands today I am working under a contract which I entered into in good faith believing that I would be furnished with ample funds, competent assistants, and adequate power to finish the work in the five years called for in that contract. Instead, due to the failure of the Commission to perform its part of the agreement, it will take approximately three more years to complete the work or eight years that I should have had for other lucrative work.” (p4-5)


“I assure you that regardless of the injustice which I feel has been done to me, I am going to carry on to completion this great National Memorial which is so close to my heart, whether or not I receive one cent for my losses or for the work to be done in addition to that contemplated in the original contract.” (p5)


Historical Background

In 1923, South Dakota historian Doane Robinson conceived the idea of giant carvings in the Black Hills to promote tourism in South Dakota. Sculptor Gutzon Borglum chose Mount Rushmore because it had the exposed granite to support sculpting and faced southeast with maximum exposure to the sun. The project received Congressional approval in March 1925 and began in October 1927. Initial estimates were that the project would take five years and cost $500,000.


Over the next fourteen years, Borglum and four hundred workers completed the carvings by blasting and drilling away 450,000 short tons of rock from the mountainside, with no fatalities. The total cost was just under $1 million. In 1933, the National Park Service assumed jurisdiction of Mount Rushmore.


Washington’s face was dedicated on July 4, 1930, followed by that of Jefferson in 1936, Lincoln in 1937, and Roosevelt in 1939. Because of Borglum’s complaints, the personnel of the first Mount Rushmore National Memorial Commission were replaced with a second, effectively giving Borglum complete control in 1938. However, in 1939, authority returned to the federal government under the National Park Service.


After Gutzon Borglum’s death in March 1941, his son and assistant sculptor Lincoln Borglum continued the work until October 1941. Originally planned to include carvings from head to waist, the project ended due to insufficient funding, and the Mount Rushmore National Memorial was declared complete.



Gutzon Borglum (1867-1941) was born in Idaho territory to Mormon Danish immigrants. He studied art in California, where he met his first wife, artist Elizabeth Janes Putnam (1848-1922), whom he married in 1889 and divorced in 1908. They spent much of the next ten years traveling and exhibiting their works in Europe. In 1909, Borglum married Mary Montgomery Williams (1874-1955), and they had three children. Borglum soon became known for public sculptures on American nationalistic themes. The Metropolitan Museum of Art purchased one of his sculptures in 1906, the first it had ever acquired by a living American. Among his other major works are a head of Abraham Lincoln from a block of marble, a mounted statue of Civil War General Philip Sheridan in Washington, D.C., the North Carolina monument at Gettysburg, and many others. A member of the Ku Klux Klan, Borglum was the original sculptor of the carving on Stone Mountain, Georgia, before clashes with the local committee led him to abandon the work. From 1927 to 1941, Borglum completed his most famous project, the 60-foot-high carvings of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, on Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. For the latter half of the project, his son Lincoln Borglum served as his Assistant-Sculptor.


Arno B. Cammerer (1883-1992) was born in Nebraska and moved to Washington, D.C., in 1904, to work as a bookkeeper. He earned a law degree from Georgetown Law School in 1911.  After serving as Executive Secretary of the Fine Arts Commission in Washington, D.C., the National Park Service’s first director appointed Cammerer as assistant director in 1919. He became director of the Park Service in 1933. Under his direction, the National Park Service tripled the number of areas served and increased visitation from two to sixteen million annually. However, conflict with Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes impaired his effectiveness. After a heart attack in 1940, he stepped down to the position of Eastern Region Director and died the following year after suffering another heart attack.


This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.



Item: 66976

Price: $900.00
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