Gutzon Borglum: "Wars of America," a monumental bronze sculpture in Newark

from the Artsology series The Arts Adventurer

I read somewhere that the sculptor Gutzon Borglum, best known as the sculptor who created Mount Rushmore, had a major sculpture in Newark, not far from where I live. My first thought was, "he had time to make something other than Mount Rushmore?" The Mount Rushmore project did take 14 years (1927-1941), but Borglum, who was born in 1867, created a lot of sculptures before Mount Rushmore (which in fact became the last major project* of his life - he died in 1941).

* Borglum did not work on Mount Rushmore by himself - he had over 400 workers - including his son Lincoln - assist him over the years.

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At any rate, back to the Borglum sculpture in Newark - it's titled "Wars of America," and he worked on it for 6 years, from 1920 - 1926, and it was the last major work he completed before starting on Mount Rushmore in 1927. The sculptor was commissioned by Newark businessman Amos Hoagland Van Horn, who made a fortune in the furniture business. Van Horn was a Civil War veteran, and wanted a sculpture for Newark that memorialized all the major conflicts in which Americans participated up to and including the First World War (which had just ended two years earlier, in 1918).

Wars of America sculpture by Gutzon Borglum at Military Park in Newark

"Wars of America" is made of bronze, and features 42 people and 2 horses. The bronze sculpture is set on top of a base of granite extracted from Stone Mountain in Georgia. The sculpture is situated in Military Park in Newark, which was used as a training ground during the French and Indian War, and as a campground for George Washington's troops during the American Revolution.

Here's something fascinating that I didn't realize when I was on location photographing this sculpture - and may not have even noticed while walking around, since one needs an aerial view (below left): the sculpture is situated as the end of the handle for a large sword. The New York Times quoted Gutzon Borglum in 1926 at the dedication as saying: "The design represents a great spearhead. Upon the green field of this spearhead we have placed a Tudor sword, the hilt of which represents the American nation at a crisis, answering the call to arms."

You can see how the "sword" pavement is lower than the surrounding grass (below right), but despite this shaped-walking area, it wasn't fully clear on the ground that this was representing the shape of a sword.

aerial view of Military Park in Newark with placement of Wars of America sculpture on sword design

view of the Wars of America sculpture by Gutzon Borglum in Military Park in Newark

You can see in the slideshow images at right that the grouping of people in this sculpture include representations of soldiers wearing uniforms from the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and World War I ... they're all mixed in together in their "common cause."

The author John Taliaferro summed it up pretty well with this description:

"The statue is fronted by four nameless officers, one dressed in the uniform of the Revolution, one from the Union Army, one from World War I, and a fourth figure representing the Navy. Behind them come 38 more full-size figures, plus two very restive horses. Only a half dozen of the men carry weapons and the Revolutionary officer carries a sword, yet the composition still manages to evoke, in Borglum's words, 'an entire nation mobilizing under great pressure of war.' The group is leaning forward en masse, a concerted thrust of citizen soldiers. Borglum wanted to express the indignation, fear, physical distress, and pathos of war. He achieves all of these and more."

Below are three images of the sculptor Gutzon Borglum: at left, in the studio; in the middle, inspecting "Wars of America" in Military Park; and at right, working on an early model for Mount Rushmore.

the sculptor Gutzon Borglum

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