Artist Talk: MUSE OF MARBLE
Tread of Pioneers Museum
Exhibit featuring 39 antique photogravure prints of sculptures by famed sculptor and creator of Mt. Rushmore, Gutzon Borglum.
Preeminent American artist and sculptor, Gutzon Borglum (1867 Ė 1941) is best known for his creation of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial
in Keystone, South Dakota
. He also created other public works of art, including a bust
of Abraham Lincoln
exhibited in the White House
by Theodore Roosevelt
and now held in the United States Capitol Crypt
in Washington, D.C.
When local printmaker Sue Oehme of Oehme Graphics was introduced to Steamboat Springs resident, Robert Ellsworth, who asked her to print some "antique plates," little did she know, she would be making history.
She later found out that Ellsworth is the step-grandson of Borglum, and what he entrusted her with was the printing of a set of 38 copper plate images of Borglumís work. The sculptor had created the plates from 1910 -1913, so he could have printed images for prospective museum curators and clients.
"The entire essence of the first printing was to be a marketing tool," said Oehme. "The first prints are not preserved very well, mostly because they were printed on lightweight paper. They were housed in a thin leather portfolio, and the sets were available by subscription."
"I started out simply as the printer, but quickly realized that this was a special and historic opportunity, and after much discussion, Robert and I decided to co-publish the set and re-release it."
For the first time, the newly printed set will be on display at the Tread of Pioneers Museum in the new exhibit, "Muse of Marble: The Works of Artist Gutzon Borglum."
Oehme/Borglumís printed suite is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and a few of the prints are in the collection of the Smithsonian. Oehme and Ellsworth are actively working with other institutions to acquire the collection.
"I think it's an amazing opportunity for the Steamboat community to get to see these rare, historical pieces, and to start a dialogue about Gutzon Borlgum's life and work," said Oehme.
At the apex of his career as the preeminent American sculptor of the early 20th century, Gutzon Borglum, who was commissioned to sculpt Mt. Rushmore, created a collection of select images to record his work. This was accomplished by etching images of the pieces onto photogravure copper plates, which were inked and printed on thin paper, designed to be shown together as a suite. His wife, Mary, was instrumental in the choice of images and his friend, Robert H. Davis, wrote a forward for the suite, which was originally published by subscription starting in 1910.
When Borglumís step-grandson, Robert Ellsworth, stumbled upon the plates on his late step-fatherís property, he knew he wanted to have them printed to reintroduce Borglumís work to the public. After numerous starts and stops, and many years in between, the plates finally arrived at Oehme Graphics in Steamboat Springs, where Master Printer, Susan Oehme completed the entire suite in small editions. Each plate is hand wiped with rich black etching ink, then printed onto heavy cotton-rag paper.
Because the plates were originally intended to be used to acquire new collectors, they were never destroyed. This simple fact has preserved them to be re-printed more than one hundred years later.
Q & A with Sue Oehme
How did you learn about the Borglum project, how did you get involved?
I was introduced to Robert Ellsworth who wanted me to print some "antique plates" for him. That was all I knew going in to the project. Robert has been a resident of Steamboat for some time, and owns a number of properties here. As soon as I started to print the plates, I was completely smitten with the beautiful images and surface of the copper plates. Clearly, these were something important.
What is the history behind the plates? Why did Borglum do plates?
Borglum put this set of 29 images together in 1910 -1913 simply to have printed images to show to prospective museum curators and clients. The entire essence of the first printing was to be a marketing tool. The first prints were not printed on very good paper, and are not preserved very well. They were housed in a thin leather portfolio, and the sets were available by subscription.
How important of an artist was Borglum?
I think this is a relative question.... but, certainly, he was one of the foremost sculptors of his day, which is why he attained the commission to do Mt Rushmore.
What relation is Robert to Borglum?
Robert's mother married Lincoln Borglum, after his father's death. Lincoln was Gutzon's son, so Robert is Gutzon's step-grandson. Lincoln Borglum was also a sculptor, and in fact, he was the person most responsible for completing My Rushmore.
What was your role?
I started out simply as the printer, but quickly realized that this was a special and historic opportunity, and Robert and I decided to co-publish the set and re-release it.
Why is the project important?
For many reasons, but obviously, first, to preserve a piece of American history. It also has prompted many long conversations about the artist and the role of his personal life in the context of his art. Gutzon was not the most genial person, and held some ideals that are no longer accepted in society.
What is your relationship with Robert?
We are good friends, and like to talk about art a lot. He owns numerous sculptures by Borlgum and a large art collection, in addition to being an artist, himself.
How do you feel about the first local showing of these prints and the partnership with the museum?
I think it's an amazing opportunity for the Steamboat community to get to see these rare, historical pieces, and to start a dialogue about Gutzon Borlgum's life and work.
Why do you think a set was accepted at the MOMA? And one at Smithsonian?
The suite is in the Metropolitan, and only a few of the prints are in the collection of the Smithsonian. We are actively working with other institutions to see if they will acquire it. Many smaller art and historical museums own the first printing but not one complete set exists of which we are aware. The Stamford Museum in CT is considering it. There are many descendents of Gutzon Borglum in that area.