John Gutzon de la Mothe Børglum was born on March 25, 1867, in St. Charles, then part of what was called the Idaho Territory. He was the son of Danish-American immigrants. Gutzon's father, Jens Møller Haugaard Børglum, a Mormon, had married two sisters, Christina and Ida Mikkelsen Børglum. After moves to Omaha, Nebraska, and St. Louis, Missouri, the family broke up when Jens Borglum decided to only take his wife Ida with him to their next location, Fremont, Nebraska.
After a brief stint at Saint Mary's College, Gutzon Borglum relocated to Omaha, Nebraska, where he apprenticed in a machine shop and graduated from Creighton Preparatory School. He was trained in Paris at the Académie Julian, where he came to know Auguste Rodin and was influenced by Rodin's impressionistic light-catching surfaces. Back in the U.S. in New York City he sculpted saints and apostles for the new Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in 1901; in 1906 he had a group sculpture accepted by the Metropolitan Museum of Art—the first sculpture by a living American the museum had ever purchased—and made his presence further felt with some portraits. He also won the Logan Medal of the Arts. His reputation soon surpassed that of his younger brother, Solon Borglum, already an established sculptor.
In 1925, he moved to Texas to work on the monument to trail drivers commissioned by the Trail Drivers Association. He completed the model in 1925, but due to lack of funds it was not cast until 1940, and then was only a fourth its originally planned size. It stands in front of the Texas Pioneer and Trail Drivers Memorial Hall next to the Witte Museum in San Antonio. Borglum lived at the historic Menger Hotel, which in the 1920s was the residence of a number of artists. He subsequently planned the redevelopment of the Corpus Christi waterfront; the plan failed although a model for a statue of Christ intended for it was later modified by his son and erected on a mountaintop in South Dakota. While living and working in Texas, Borglum took an interest in local beautification. He promoted change and modernity, although he was berated by academicians.
A fascination with gigantic scale and themes of heroic nationalism suited his extroverted personality. His head of Abraham Lincoln, carved from a six-ton block of marble, was exhibited in Theodore Roosevelt's White House and can be found in the United States Capitol Crypt in Washington, D.C. A "patriot," believing that the "monuments we have built are not our own," he looked to create art that was "American, drawn from American sources, memorializing American achievement," according to a 1908 interview article. Borglum was highly suited to the competitive environment surrounding the contracts for public buildings and monuments, and his public sculpture is sited all around the United States.
In 1908, Borglum won a competition for a statue of the Civil War General Philip Sheridan to be placed in Sheridan Circle in Washington. D.C. A second version of General Philip Sheridan was erected in Chicago, Illinois, in 1923. Winning this competition was a personal triumph for him because he won out over sculptor J.Q.A. Ward, a much older and more established artist and one whom Borglum had clashed with earlier in regard to the National Sculpture Society. At the unveiling of the Sheridan statue, one observer, President Theodore Roosevelt (whom Borglum was later to include in the Mount Rushmore portrait group), declared that it was "first rate"; a critic wrote that "as a sculptor Gutzon Borglum was no longer a rumor, he was a fact."
Borglum was active in the committee that organized the New York Armory Show of 1913, the birthplace of modernism in American art. By the time the show was ready to open, however, Borglum had resigned from the committee, feeling that the emphasis on avant-garde works had co-opted the original premise of the show and made traditional artists like himself look provincial. He moved into an estate in Stamford, Connecticut, in 1914 and lived there for 10 years.
Borglum was an active member of the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, raised in Howard Lodge #35, New York City, on June 10, 1904, and serving as its Worshipful Master 1910–11. In 1915, he was appointed Grand Representative of the Grand Lodge of Denmark near the Grand Lodge of New York. He received his Scottish Rite Degrees in the New York City Consistory on October 25, 1907.
Borglum was also a member of the Ku Klux Klan. He was one of the six knights who sat on the Imperial Koncilium in 1923, which transferred leadership of the Ku Klux Klan from Imperial Wizard Colonel Simmons to Imperial Wizard Hiram Evans. In 1925, having only completed the head of Robert E. Lee, Borglum was dismissed from the Stone Mountain project, with some holding that it came about due to infighting within the KKK, with Borglum involved in the strife. Later, he stated, "I am not a member of the Kloncilium, nor a knight of the KKK," but Howard and Audrey Shaff add that "that was for public consumption." The museum at Mount Rushmore displays a letter to Borglum from D. C. Stephenson, the infamous Klan Grand Dragon who was later convicted of the rape and murder of Madge Oberholtzer. The 8x10 foot portrait contains the inscription "To my good friend Gutzon Borglum, with the greatest respect." Correspondence from Borglum to Stephenson during the 1920s detailed a deep racist conviction in Nordic moral superiority and urges strict immigration policies.
Borglum died in 1941 and is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale in California in the Memorial Court of Honor. His second wife, Mary Montgomery Williams Borglum (1874–1955) (they were married May 20, 1909), is interred alongside him. In addition to his son, Lincoln, he had a daughter, Mary Ellis (Mel) Borglum Vhay (1916–2002).
Sourced mainly from Wikipedia.