Gutzon Borglum, whose full name was the impressive-sounding John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum, was a sculptor and painter who is perhaps most famous for the mammoth outdoor carvings of Stone Mountain in Georgia (which he did not complete) and Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. During his career, Borglum also carved statues of several saints and apostles for inclusion within Episcopal Churches and Cathedrals, including the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City. Borglum’s father Jens was a polygamist Mormon, with two wives at the time of his son’s birth, although he later divorced one of them and renounced polygamy and Mormonism.
In 1915 Borglum began work on the Stone Mountain carvings of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis, hired by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. He was to include in the great frieze an altar to the Ku Klux Klan; his acknowledged membership in the organization was helpful to his landing the commission.
Borglum had joined the Klan on top of Stone Mountain, and his strong white supremacist beliefs were appealing to the sponsors of the monument. World War I intervened and work was suspended; when renewed Borglum had been approached to build Mount Rushmore. At the same time financial backing for Stone Mountain dwindled, and with his attention drifting to the Black Hills his Georgia sponsors fired him and hired new visionaries to complete the Stone Mountain work. Borglum went to South Dakota.
Still Borglum remained a Klan member and participant in Klan activities, even as he built the huge edifice with its likenesses of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln. Today, the museum at Mount Rushmore contains correspondence from highly-placed Klan officers to Borglum offering both congratulations for his achievements and approbation for his strongly racist views, in the very shadow of his great bust of Abraham Lincoln.