Before & After: Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore. A grand monument to four exemplary US presidents? A tourism gimmick? A complex white supremacy conspiracy? Art, even?

Whatever the case, our B&A example shows that even common folk like Gutzon Borglum can rearrange entire mountainsides with just a little dynamite, thousands of fed dollars, off-the-chart ambition, and maybe a few hours of sculpture instruction.

I’ve been to Mount Rushmore. My first impression: What’s with the faces in the rock?

Keep in mind I was 12 at the time, had been riding in the backseat of a cramped Chevy Blazer with my sister for what seemed like 120 hours, and was totally obsessed with nature and Native American culture.  Mount Rushmore was an insult to the Native people for reasons I couldn’t quite comprehend.

Today, I can appreciate Gutzy’s artistic and adventurous efforts for what it is.

Likes? Oh, a fine wine, looking mighty serious, long walks on the beach, and sculpting mountains. In that order.

After all, the guy chiseled and blasted through tons of granite,  somehow sculpting four highly recognizable busts along the way.  (You should see my stick figures. Atrocious.)

Gutzon’s work is a sore subject, even today. Just recently a UN official concluded that the “Mt. Rushmore Site Should Be Returned To Indigenous Native American Tribes.”

So what are your thoughts? Do you enjoy the art for what it is? Or Gutzon’s adventurous pursuit of eternal granite fame?

Perhaps you’re equally impressed and somehow disturbed with the whole thing like I am. What do you think?



  1. I grew up near it. We could see the mounts outline from our yard. I love it. It’s art. They made crazy horse out there too. In my opinion, it’s like a grand cave drawing. Just history. We leave our mark on earth regardless of what form it takes. Might as well make it something to remember.

    1. Interesting perspective with the grand cave drawing! Never thought of it along those lines! And I agree, it’s certainly an impressive sculpture.

      1. Oh, I already do. Just the other day I was caught up in the midst of a heated political argument, when out of nowhere I settled the debate simply by mentioning your name.

        “That’s not what The Hobbler said on the issue.”

        “True. Very true. Well then…”

      2. What would you say is the reason why it’s taking so long to finish Crazy Horse? I remember going as a kid and it was nowhere near being finished. To give the builders credit, Crazy Horse is indeed a gigantic, time-consuming, super expensive monument.

  2. I agree with the Hobbler. He seems like a genius. Only kidding!
    I can go both ways. I wouldn’t want every rock formation to be carved into. That would be awful. I think Mount Rushmore is special because it’s really so grand.
    On the other hand, my imagination lets me see my own sculptures when I stare into those same untouched rocks. Like cloud formations, I can project my imagination onto it.
    I’m okay as long as it’s kept to a minimum. ‘Less is more,’ sort of thing…

    1. You know it’s the end of days when the National Park Service sells advertising/sculpture space to the highest bidder. How about a huge Nike swoosh sculpture through El Capitan in Yosemite? Just Do It!

      I too am happy they kept mountain sculpting to a minimum.

  3. Haha, yeah I’m equally fascinated and disturbed for some inexplicable reason. I feel like it’s defacing nature … um, literally? But it’s just incredible that someone could create that on a rock face.

    1. Defacing. Mount Rushmore. Good one!

      Where do you even start on something like this? Just get to blasting on Washington’s nose or something?

  4. He actually did Crazy Horse as a warm up for Rushmore.
    I think for the time he lived in, the grandeur and the art of it outweighed the environmentalism of it.
    It is a stunning monument.

    1. A gentleman by the name of Korczak Ziolkowski was responsible for the Crazy Horse Memorial. Interesting history surrounding that one!

      I do have to remember things were a little different back in those days. It seemed if you could dream it—no matter how ridiculous it might be in size or structure—it could happen. Not to suggest you can’t achieve the same in modern times, but perhaps we show a little more restraint than our super sized sculpting forefathers. I feel like taking on a huge art project right about now. Hum…

      1. Huge art project Eric? Hmmm… how about huge stick figures on rocks?
        Enjoyed the article and the before and after photos… Didn’t know Americans had such mixed feelings about this monument…

      2. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Congress awarded someone like me funds to draw huge stick figures on rocks.

  5. I have five children. I didn’t know the the planet’s growing population was destroying the environment when I had them. Of course I wouldn’t give a single one of them up today, but I certainly wouldn’t have five in this day and age.. I look at Mt. Rushmore and think it was created before we came to appreciate a mountain’s natural beauty. I think Mt. Rushmore is a national treasure, but I would protest the same thing happening today. Thanks for the comparison photos Eric.

  6. Humans do have a strange passion for creating enormous physical representations of their gods and heroes. But seriously, four American presidents? What vainglorious egocentric nationalism is willing to shell out tons of money for can never be considered art, in my opinion. It lacks soul, originality, and is best understood as blatant propaganda and posturing. It’s like the moon landing: it is our god given, divinely ordained act as free rich American imperialists to beat the Ruskies to the moon. Pure crap, like the Empire State building, the Taj Mahal and the pyramids. Sure, it took tremendous amounts of labor and money, but acting at the behest of some wealthy entrepreneur, politician or Pharaoh to secure grant money, fame or your life, does not make you an artist. Think about iconoclastic painters such as Rembrandt and Caravaggio. Yes, they certainly had vast artistic talent, but I would say doing commissioned work for the Catholic church, puts you at about the level of a wedding photographer as far as integrity goes. I suppose one could argue that the motives behind a piece should not define the worth of the piece, but think about the subject matter, not to mention the location of Mt. Rushmore; Four demagogues of white supremacy in the delusional throws of imperialistic fervor (except for perhaps Lincoln, but he had his own demons) mounted very conspicuously atop a mount considered sacred to the indigenous people they just recently succeeded in annihilating. It is iconoclastic and required great effort and skill to undertake, but it was intended as and always will be a big “Fuck You” to the Lakota people in particular, and to anyone who dares to question America’s divinely ordained hegemony in general. Or we could just call it even and blow up some of those neo-colonial McMansions in the hills of Loudoun County, VA and replace them with a sculpture of Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, Tecumseh and fucking Leonard Peltier.

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