Archive for the ‘American Presidents’ Category

GUTZON BORGLUM (1867-1941) Sculptor of Mount Rushmore

In American Artists, American History, American Presidents, Artists, Biography, Mt. Rushmore, People, Sculpture on August 3, 2010 at 1:11 PM

Gutzon Borglum

John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum’s father, a Danish Mormon, was a bigamist.  He was married to Borglum’s mother and her sister.  Their life in Idaho and Utah was accommodating, but when they moved to Nebraska, Borglum’s dad decided to restructure his family to fit in better.   He divorced Borglum’s mom but stayed married to his aunt.  It’s hard to know how this influenced the young man, but as an adult he was very independent with an ego as big as a mountain.

When he was sixteen, the family moved to Los Angeles where Borglum started to express himself artistically.  He teacher was Elizabeth Jaynes Putnam, an accomplished painter who was 18 years older than her student.  Their relationship soon turned personal, and they were married in 1889 when Borglum was 22 years old. 

Borglum had great success early on, and his portrait of General John C. Fremont led to his first patron, Fremont’s wife, who introduced him to Leland Stanford and Theodore Roosevelt.

CARVING OUT A CAREER           When the Borglums went to Paris, he studied at the École des Beaux-Arts and the Académie Julian. Both he and his wife mounted successful exhibitions. The biggest artistic influence was his encounter with Auguste Rodin, and he abandoned painting for sculpture.  Since his brother Solon was a sculptor, sibling rivalry also could have been a factor in changing his medium. 

When Borglum and his wife returned to California the state was in a deep financial depression, and artists weren’t able to get commissions.  In 1896 they ventured to London where he had some of his art on display in Windsor Castle for Queen Victoria. 

As Borglum’s career started to out shine his wife’s, the marriage suffered.  He left Europe in 1901 alone to return to the United States.  Onboard the ship bound for America, Borglum met Mary Montgomery, a younger woman returning from Berlin.  She was one of the first two women to ever earn a doctorate in Berlin and had mastered six languages. He respected her intelligence and passion and the balance she brought to his life.  Finally, in 1909, Putnam granted Borglum a divorce and he and Montgomery were married.  The couple moved to Connecticut and settled on a farm they called “Borgland.”   Three years later a son, Lincoln, was born followed by a daughter, Mary Ellis.

Borglum grew increasingly famous as he developed his own style of “American” art. His sculpture Mares of Diomedes was a gold medal winner at the 1904 St. Louis Exposition, and it was the first sculpture by an American artist accepted at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  His greatest notoriety came with a bust of Abraham Lincoln which was originally displayed in Theodore Roosevelt’s White House and is currently exhibited in the rotunda of the Capital building.

PLAYING POLITICS                       Art was not the only contribution Borglum made to American society.  He was outspoken about his political opinions and tried to wield some celebrity influence by campaigning for Roosevelt’s reelection in 1912.  During the Wilson administration Borglum, in a departure from his usual focus, investigated malpractices in aircraft manufacture and reported his findings directly to President Wilson.  Borglum and the president disagreed about how the artist became involved in such an investigation, and their dispute became public. Borglum was adamant that President Wilson specifically appointed him to the task and published letters in the New York Times defending his involvement.  The president, in letters to Borglum and the Secretary of War which the White House also released to the New York Times, tried to distance himself from Borglum appreciating his discoveries but apparently not wanting to be linked too closely to the man. 

MOVING A MOUNTAIN                It was Borglum’s bust of Lincoln that led to his first mountain carving.  He was invited by the Daughters of the Confederacy to carve a bust of Robert E. Lee in Stone Mountain, Georgia.  Upon visiting the site he declared that doing just the head of Lee would be as impressive as a postage stamp on a barn door.  Instead, he created a design of a more appropriate scale that incorporated Lee, Jefferson Davis and Stonewall Jackson on horseback in front of a row of soldiers.  He started carving the piece in 1923 with chisels and jackhammers until he learned the art of using dynamite for detail work from a Belgian engineer.   

Borglum joined the Ku Klux Klan while he was developing this project.  It’s not clear if he did it as an expression of his core beliefs or to patronize the backers. He was known to shun anyone who could not directly help him through money or influence.  Borglum’s artistic temperament clashed with the patrons and he was kicked off the job.  Another artist was hired to complete the monument, and ultimately none of Borglum’s work survived.  He did benefit from the work he did, however, by developing techniques he used on later projects.

BIGGER IS BETTER                       While Borglum was working on Stone Mountain, the state historian from South Dakota tempted him with the idea of creating a sculpture in the mountains of the Black Hills.  The sculptor saw the potential for more national recognition than the Georgia project afforded him, so he agreed to the challenge and uprooted his family, moving them to Keystone, South Dakota.  His original subjects were Washington and Lincoln.  The Louisiana Purchase by Jefferson and the acquisition Panama Canal by Roosevelt expanded the story of the monument to the Manifest Destiny of the United States, and those two profiles were added to the design.  Borglum began carving the mountain in 1927 when he was 60 years old. 

Borglum is responsible for creating the model and picking the site for the carving.  During the sculpting he was often more supervisory than hands-on.  He would climb all over the mountain to find the best angle for the features of each bust, often insisting on the accuracy of details that could not be seen from ground level.  

For long periods of time he turned the reigns over to his assistants, including his son Lincoln, while he traveled to Washington D.C. to get more funding or to Europe to work on other commissioned projects.  Whenever he returned to Mt. Rushmore, he would resume micromanaging the workers. 

BITING THE HAND THAT FED HIM      Again his artistic temperament got him into trouble.  John Boland was chairman of the Mt. Rushmore executive committee and responsible for all the finances on the project. He was both a friend and nemesis to Borglum.  When money became tight for the artist, it was Boland who guaranteed bank loans so he could keep his home.  On occasion, the businessman even kept Borglum afloat with a personal loan. 

But Borglum didn’t like being beholden to anyone.  He fired some of the best workers and frequently butted heads with Boland, always insisting on doing things his way. These clashes led to a rift in their relationship.  Eventually, however, their wives intervened and conspired to effect a successful reconciliation between the two men.

Borglum never got to see the Mt. Rushmore project completed.  He died in 1941 at the age of 74 from complications related to surgery.  His son, Lincoln, took charge, working one additional season, but the monument basically remained the way his father left it.

QUESTION:  What is your favorite kind of art?  Would you rather observe someone else’s art or make it yourself?

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved


VICTORIA C. WOODHULL (1838 – 1927) First Woman to Run for U. S. President

In American History, American Presidents, Biography, Feminists, History, People, Presidential Candidates, Trivia, Victorian Women, women on June 14, 2010 at 9:21 PM

Victoria C. Woodhull

While Victoria California Woodhull’s endeavors did not all end successfully, she was very successful at laying a foundation for women to build on in business and politics.

Woodhull’s childhood was unstable.  Her family was poor, and love seemed to be a commodity her parents, Roxanna and Reuben Buckman Claflin, couldn’t afford.  The best way Claflin knew to deal with his ten children was to beat them.  Ironically, he had acquired wealth through real estate speculations, but lost everything when Victoria, the seventh child, was three.  Roxanna was born into money, the heiress of a rich Pennsylvania German family.  Being waited on hand and foot limited her motivation, and she never became literate or gained any ability to fend for herself.   

Woodhull’s formal education copied her mother’s.  She only spent a few years in school because she was pressed upon to help out so much at home, being treated almost like a slave.  Woodhull missed going to school and was an excellent student, but she acquired knowledge from other sources.

 BEING GUIDED BY THE SPIRIT                                                                              Woodhull believed in angels and lived with them as friends.  Every day she went into a trance and communicated with them, often sitting on the roof of the house for hours to escape the cruel, demanding life inside.  She had a simple faith in God, and took great comfort in relating to the angels and receiving channeled messages from them.  She credits these beings with giving her the ability to retain everything she read.

The angels were not imaginary beings but the spirits of people close to Woodhull.  When she was three, her nurse died suddenly.  Woodhull clearly remembered joining the nurse on her journey to the spirit world, being carried there by her.  Her mother recounted that her daughter’s body lay immobile, as if she were dead, for the three hours of this experience.  Woodhull also lost two sisters who died in childhood, and they became invisible playmates to her.  She also claimed to receive a prophecy from a spirit who confirmed that she would one day be a writer and publisher and leader of her people.

THIRD TIME’S A CHARM                                                                                           On the way to fulfilling her destiny, Woodhull married at age 14.  Her husband was 28, and it was not a happy union.  For two years she had become increasingly sick with the fever, and eventually Dr. Canning Woodhull was called to treat her.  When she recovered, he escorted Woodhull to a picnic and on the way home proposed marriage. This terrified her but her parents accepted the offer, and four months later they were married.  Dr. Woodhull’s fidelity lasted two days before he resumed his life as a philanderer and a drunk who lived beyond his means.

Within two years they had a baby boy, and it was born developmentally disabled.  Woodhull and the baby returned to her family and she earned her living with her clairvoyance and wisely invested her money. Then she had a healthy baby girl by another drunken philanderer.

Woodhull finally met her soul mate in Col. James H. Blood, a loving and compassionate man who was also a Spiritualist.  They were married spiritually if not legally, and Woodhull retained the name she was known by.  When Woodhull would go into a trance and channel the messages of the angels, Blood would diligently write down every word.

GOING WHERE NO WOMEN HAD GONE BEFORE                                          In 1869 Woodhull turned her attention to business and with her sister, Tennie, became the first female brokers on Wall Street when they established Woodhull, Claflin & Company.  They were supported partly by Woodhull’s investments and the respect and deep pockets of Cornelius Vanderbilt, who appreciated Woodhull’s clairvoyant abilities.  The sisters did not participate in the daily operations of the company, but they were nevertheless mocked in the press for being women in influential positions in finance.

The following year, these entrepreneurs started a journal called Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly which became a platform for their views on politics, finance and women’s issues.  If they weren’t controversial before, they were now.  Their opinions varied widely from the mainstream, and no topic was off limits.  They advocated the elimination of the gold standard, graduated income tax, legalized prostitution, spiritualism and vegetarianism.  They promoted women’s rights including sex education and “free love.” Woodhull believed in monogamy, but also that a woman retained the right to determine with whom she had sex.  And, contrary to the social mores of the time, she strongly defended a woman’s right to leave a bad marriage.  Woodhull quickly became a leader in the women’s suffrage movement preaching equality, freedom of choice, and the right to vote.  

IT’S AN HONOR TO BE NOMINATED                                                                 In 1871 Woodhull received a message from the same spirit that had earlier predicted her future, telling her to run for President.  Her husband dismissed the notion as ridiculous, and the friends that she consulted laughed at her.  But, the idea grew on her, and she trusted her spirit’s guidance. She announced her intention to run, and in June 1872, she was officially nominated as the candidate to represent the newly created Equal Rights Party.  Frederick Douglas, a former slave, was nominated as her running mate, but he did not accept. Woodhull’s platform was to advance women’s political equality with men. She received support from trade unions, socialists and women’s rights advocates, but some of her ideas were so radical that more conservative suffragists like Susan B. Anthony would not support her.

Woodhull’s nomination was controversial not only because of her gender, but the legality of it was suspect.  Technically she was ineligible because she wouldn’t be 35 years old, as mandated by the Constitution, until six months after the inauguration.  However, since Ohio, her birth state, didn’t require birth certificates until 1867, Woodhull’s age couldn’t be confirmed.  Also, the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote wasn’t ratified until 1920, which implied that a woman couldn’t run for President either.  And some believed that because she was a woman she was not a citizen, also a requirement for President.

Ulysses S. Grant easily won reelection, leaving Woodhull’s destiny unfulfilled.  In 1876 she divorced Colonel Blood and a few months later moved to England with her children.  She earned her living on the lecture circuit.  Wealthy banker John Biddulph Martin attended one of her talks and ended up becoming Woodhull’s third husband when she was 45 years old.  This time she assumed his name.  As Victoria Woodhull Martin, she and her daughter published a magazine called the Humanitarian until she was widowed.   She died in England on June 9, 1927.

QUESTION:  What are the best and worst things about being President of the United States?

© 2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved


RICHARD LAWRENCE (1800?-1861) First Person to Attempt to Assassinate an American President

In American History, American Presidents, Andrew Jackson, Biography, History, People, Trivia, Uncategorized on March 2, 2010 at 9:11 AM

Jackson Assassination Attempt

Richard Lawrence’s attempt to assassinate President Andrew Jackson was not politically motivated.  Even though he had never met the president, he had a personal score to settle.  

Lawrence was born in England, and made his way to America when he was young.  He ended up working as a painter but became unemployed in the early 1830s.  This coincided with a decline in his mental stability.  He suffered from delusions of grandeur and believed that he was King Richard III of England, who, inconveniently, ascended to the throne in 1483.  His fallacies grew and started manifesting themselves physically.  He exchanged his normal conservative dress for more flamboyant outfits and grew a mustache, perhaps to create a disguise.  

 Lawrence convinced himself that his lack of work was inconsequential because the U.S. government owed him money, and that President Jackson was personally preventing him from receiving it.  He was confident that as soon he obtained the funds, he would be able to begin his reign as the King of England.  Lawrence also held the president directly responsible for killing his father in 1832.  Never mind that his father had died about a decade earlier and had never set foot on American soil.  

 In Lawrence’s mind, these grievances had to be avenged, leaving him no alternative but to eliminate his antagonist.  He plotted to assassinate President Jackson on a damp day in January 1835.  Leaving nothing to chance, he had two loaded pistols and a clear shot at point blank range.  

 On January 30 President Jackson was at the Capitol to attend the funeral of Congressman Warren R. Davis of South Carolina.  After paying his respects and filing past the casket, President Jackson exited the building. Lawrence was waiting for his opportunity behind a pillar. As the president walked past, Lawrence emerged from his hiding place, aimed and shot at his target. The gun misfired, and immediately Lawrence pulled the second pistol out of his pocket and pulled the trigger.  That gun misfired, too.  President Jackson heard a commotion and turned around to observe Lawrence being wrestled to the ground. The president himself further subdued his assailant by punching him in the stomach with his cane.  

 During the investigation Lawrence’s guns worked perfectly, and it was determined that the odds of both guns misfiring were 125,000 to 1.  The weapons Lawrence used were known not to be reliable in moisture, so it was the weather that actually saved President Jackson’s life.   

Two and a half months later Lawrence was brought to trial and prosecuted by Francis Scott Key, the writer of The Star Spangled Banner. The jury needed only five minutes of deliberation to find him not guilty by reason of insanity.  There was speculation that the toxic chemicals in his paints were a contributing factor to his irrational mental state.  Lawrence stayed in several institutions before he became a permanent resident of the Government Hospital for the Insane in Washington D.C. until his death in 1861. 

QUESTION:  What is the biggest or worst thing you’ve ever gotten away with?  

                                 © 2010 Debbie Foulkes  All Rights Reserved