The great majority of St. George’s book chronicles the events that occurred once Borglum had decided on that particular granite mountainside in the Black Hills of South Dakota for his expansive sculpture, his tribute to American ideals. Despite his opinionated and temperamental nature, Borglum is of interest to young readers because he subscribed to the optimist’s view that anything is possible in the United States. Borglum’s vision was, in many ways, larger than life; his tenacity, which made the vision a reality, serves as a colorful model of the value of believing in oneself.
When discussing Borglum’s tempestuous personality, St. George attempts to provide a balanced presentation of the artist, so she cannot avoid documenting his difficult relationships with significant and powerful people. St. George suggests that Borglum was able to behave cordially when around Doane Robinson, Peter Norbeck, Calvin Coolidge, and John Boland as long as they worked with him on his own terms, which generally meant little or no interference. If someone else’s plans ran contrary to his own, Borglum was uncompromising. Readers learn about the intense frustration produced in notables who worked with the artist.
Yet St. George does sympathize with Borglum. Although the sculptor was employed from 1925 to 1941, less than seven years were actually spent actively working on the four faces because the great vision required enormous amounts of money, a commodity that Borglum found to be tangibly scarce. His resulting frustration informed much of the controversy that he caused throughout the entire project. Nevertheless, he was not...
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St. George contends that historical monuments cannot be understood out of context, that an analysis of them requires a sensitivity to the entire cultural environment of their era. Addressing the story of Mount Rushmore with these thoughts in mind, the author has succeeded in creating a thought-provoking work for young adults. While The Mount Rushmore Story is indeed a biography of Borglum, on another level it implies a condemnation of the nineteenth and twentieth century American habit of “relieving” tribes of their lands, their culture, and their livelihood. Introduced to the often-neglected Native American viewpoint, young readers’ sensitivities are heightened; St. George encourages young people to see from another vantage point and to unravel the myths that color many traditional accounts of the clashes between white settlers and the Great Plains tribes. The author notes, with some incredulity, that the “Sioux victories over professional armed soldiers were called massacres, while Army victories over the Sioux, which often included the slaughter of whole villages, were called battles.” Readers are thus introduced to the role that semantics plays in historical accuracy.
The book further implies that individual readers need be responsible for their own evaluation of the magnificence or the outrageousness of Borglum’s most widely known sculpture. By allowing for “each person to interpret individually the significance of this ancient granite mountain,” St. George gives young people license to question ethnocentric accounts and to inquire about that which has been omitted from traditional historical reports about the Black Hills: its first inhabitants.