My first glimpse of the monumental sculpture carved into the massive granite dome known as Stone Mountain was slightly disappointing. From the viewing platform the three sculpted figures of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, General Robert E. Lee and Lt. General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson were dwarfed by the sheer immensity of the naked rock that thrusts 1,683 feet above sea level from an otherwise flat plain. I had expected the carving, often compared to South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore, to be bigger, more impressive. Then I stepped inside the museum at Stone Mountain Park and quickly discovered that first impressions can indeed be deceiving. The image of the three men towers 400 feet above the ground and is larger than a football field. Measuring 90 by 190 feet, the carving is a full thirty feet higher than Mount Rushmore and a six foot man can stand inside the mouth of General Lee’s horse! Even more surprising, for nearly half a century the attempt to create this memorial to the Confederacy was little more than a pipe dream.
The project was first envisioned by Caroline Helen Jemison Plane, a charter member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, who in 1915 approached sculptor Gutzon Borglum to sculpt a 20-foot high bust of General Lee on the face of the mountain. Borglum, who would later become famous as the sculptor of Mount Rushmore, accepted the commission and immediately lobbied to expand the project, insisting that “…a twenty foot head of Lee on that mountainside would look like a postage stamp on a barn door.” Given my initial reaction, there is little doubt that Borglum was correct but his grandiose counter-proposal was for a project the size of which had never before been attempted: he envisioned a sculpture of seven central figures followed by “an army of thousands.” World War One delayed the onset of carving, but finally in 1923 Borglund was given $250,000 and allowed to start. Less than seven months later he unveiled the completed head of Lee on the General’s birthday, but the sculptor’s dictatorial attitudes were winning him no favor and by 1925 his contract had been cancelled over irreconcilable differences.
Enter sculptor number two, Augustus Lukeman, whose first action was to dynamite any evidence of Borglum’s work off the face of the mountain and begin anew. Three years later funds ran out during the Great Depression and once again the project was shelved – this time for 30 years, until the the State of Georgia purchased the mountain in 1958 and made it a state park. The Stone Mountain Memorial Association (SMMA) was established and tasked with the responsibility for completing the sculpture and constructing a plaza at the base of Stone Mountain. Following an extensive selection process, SMMA selected Walter Hancock to finish the project and work began again in earnest in 1964.
Hancock, a renowned sculptor in his own right, referred to himself as the consultant on the carving and not the sculptor, explaining in a 1977 interview with Robert Brown, for the Archives of American Art: “Because the carving after all had been begun from a model by Augustus Ludeman, and it was clear that the only way that it could be carried out was to continue with Ludeman’s model. So I felt that I was simply a consultant and not the sculptor…”
Though Hancock used Lukeman’s models and sketches as a basis for his design, he felt that Lukeman’s partially finished sculpture had some enormous mistakes in proportion.
“It had a kind of fine monumental quality, but the heads of the figures were large enough to be those of six-year old boys, and they couldn’t have been made to look like dignified leaders of the Confederacy… Unfortunately, it had been carried so far that there was no going back. Davis’ head had been finished by Ludeman’s carvers and it had been finished very well. It is a very handsome piece of portraiture and carving. The Lee head was almost finished, the Jackson head not at all. I had to saw up the cast of Ludeman’s model, fill in the missing pieces, lengthen the arms, lengthen the torsos, lower the bodies of the horses in order to give the men enough room, enough presence to live up to their heads. This brought the horses down to below the line which had been cut by the original carvers. There were deep channels cutting right through what we would have liked to have as the material for the large horse and their legs. So, it was clear that the legs of the horses could never be carved.” (sic)
The modifications were accomplished via “patching,” which became one of the greatest challenges of the entire project. The host of professional quarrymen who had been hired to do the day-to-day carving cut giant blocks of granite from the side of the mountain, built train tracks from the quarry site to the carving site, loaded the giant blocks and transported them by rail. The blocks were then lifted into place and secured with five-foot long steel pins and mortar, following which the “plug” was carved to match the rest of the figure. A large block used to augment Lee’s chest weighed four and a half tons, while two smaller blocks were used to beef up his elbow and forearm. Additional patches were also added to one of the horse’s heads, Jackson’s beard and collar, and to Davis’ hat. Continue reading
Thai artisans work precious teak wood into carvings, furniture, and all manner of statuary at the Royal Thai Handicrafts Center in Damnoen Saduak, near Bangkok, Thailand.
It all began with “CowParade,” a public art display of giant fiberglass cows hosted by the City of Zurich, Switzerland in 1998. Decorated by local artists and then displayed all over the city, the sculptures were ultimately auctioned off to benefit charity. The event was so successful and well-received that it became the impetus for iconic public art displays all over the world.
Chicago was the first to mimic the concept; in a nod to its history as a meat packing center, fiberglass cows were scattered throughout the Loop in 1999. Since then, scores of copy-cat events around the world have featured sculptures of whatever animal or item best represents the sponsoring city.
Sarasota, Florida, also known as Circus Capital of the World, chose clowns. The Outer Banks of North Carolina, during the centennial celebration of Wilbur and Orville Wright’s first motorized flight, attached metal wings to mustangs, merging “First Flight” with its reputation as home to one of the largest herds of Spanish mustangs still remaining in the wild. And in Miami’s South Beach, five-foot tall flamingos still peek from gardens and line the broad boulevards. The list goes on: Los Angeles sponsored angels; Hendersonville, North Carolina exhibited giant apples; and Norfolk, Virginia had mermaids. Continue reading
I’ve lived in downtown Sarasota for nearly three years and thought I’d seen everything the city center had to offer until the other day, when I took a walk along Sarasota Bay. Just two blocks from the heart of downtown I discovered an arched entryway leading to Bayfront Park, a half-mile long peninsula jutting into the bay. Intrigued, I stepped through the archway and into an alternate reality of grass-roofed shacks, brightly colored water sport equipment, tiki bars, multi-million dollar yachts at anchor, outdoor sculpture, elaborate playground equipment, and a circular recessed fountain where children romped in columns of water burbling from the ground.