“Somewhere in America… backbone of the continent, removed from succeeding, selfish, coveting civilisations and out of the path of greed, an acre or two of stone should bear witness, carrying likeness, a few precious words pressed together, an appraisal of our civilisation, telling of the things we tried to do, cut so high, near the stars, it wouldn’t pay to pull them down for lesser purposes.”
Thus mused Gutzon Borglum, the American sculptor who went on to deface the Lakota Sioux Indian sacred site of Mount Rushmore, with the iconic likenesses of four American presidents. For him, the gargantuan profiles represented the quintessence of American civilisation. Perched upon the lofty mountain peaks, far removed from the corruptive and corrosive influences of daily life, they were to remain, for evermore, an imperative, set in stone, for subsequent Americans to follow.
Borglum was interested in the fine line trod between people of the modern age between the sublime and barbarism. One of his early sculptural works was the ‘Mares of Diomedes’, the man-eating and uncontrollable horses belonging to the king of the Thracian Bistones, Diomedes. The demi-god Heracles left his favoured companion, Abderus, in charge of them while he fought Diomedes, and found out that the boy had been devoured by the ravenous steeds. In revenge, Heracles fed Diomedes to his own horses, then founded the city of Abdera next to the boy’s tomb, perhaps highlighting just how prone to devour itself humanity is, without the intervention of the divine. It is probably for this reason that in 1918, he was one of the drafters of the Czechoslovak Declaration of Independence.