Newark historian: Let sculpture by famous artist, KKK member remain

Posted Oct 09, 2019

By Elizabeth Del Tufo

Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor of Mount Rushmore, also made The Wars of America monument, which sits in Newark's Military Park. Elizabeth Del Tufo says the statue should remain despite Borglum's membership in the KKK.

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I’m a long time Newark resident and a passionate promoter of Newark. In 1976, I started giving tours of Newark and have added to the tours a Newark power point presentation “Newark through the Ages,” which I have presented to libraries, senior groups, and college students. In my hundreds of bus tours and in my Newark narrative, the statues of Gutzon Borglum, who sculpted Mount Rushmore, play a prominent role.

They play that role because they are magnificent works of art and on looking at them we are led to further revelations and isn’t that what art is supposed to do? Make you think of what the artists is saying? So I was dismayed to see the article in The Star-Ledger/NJ.com about the controversy involving Mr. Borglum’s statue in Military Park.

Lets start with what Mr. Borglum’s statues represent. We will discuss three of them, as the fourth, the 'Landing Monument," was covered by The Star-Ledger earlier this year.

  • “The Puritan and the Indian”

Opposite the library this statue represents the spot where the founders first started negotiations with the Lenape Indians to buy Newark. Learning point? Newark was not built on land stolen from the Indians, but on a agreed upon sale of property. Second lesson, why did Mr. Borglum inscribe below the Indian, “The Indian Lingered as if Reluctant to Depart”? Because he knew the Lenapes suffered on the infamous “Trial of Tears” the final cruel, racist, injustice inflicted on Native Americans by the government. And please note Mr. Borglum shows the Indian standing strong and proud next to the Puritan not servile like many artists of the day.

  • “The Seated Lincoln”

Located in front of the Essex County Courthouse, this statue was unveiled by former president Theodore Roosevelt in 1911 to cries of dismay as our murdered president was sitting down. Why wasn’t he like all American male hero’s being shown on a horse, or standing with a sword? Mr. Borglum knew that Lincoln suffered from depression and that he was a man not much taken with pomp, so Mr. Borglum showed him sitting alone on a bench with his hat by his side contemplating the horrors of the Civil War. Mr. Borglum’s Lincoln was the prototype for the seated Lincoln in Washington, D.C. Much to learn.

  • “Wars of America”

Mr. Borglum’s masterpiece. It’s worth noting that Mr. Borglum did not depict war as a glorious, heroic event, but a heart-breaking event resulting in wounded men being tended to by women nurses, yes women were important to the war effort, and young men leaving their wives and children. And he paid tribute to the conscientious objector even as the country was putting them in prison.

It is common knowledge that Mr. Borglum joined the KKK while in Georgia. In order to gain commissions, all artists know that you need to know the right people and, in Georgia, the people to know were the good old boys who happened to be in the local KKK. There has been no evidence that Mr. Borglum ever participated in any of their noxious rituals or beliefs.

Further proof of Mr. Borglum’s efforts to gain commissions is the fact that Abraham Van Horn who paid for the “Wars of America” is shown at the front as a Revolutionary War general. And while most historians would not put Theodore Roosevelt in the same category as Presidents Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, he is on Mount Rushmore as Mr. Borglum needed his support for that massive project. While I don’t know where the stones for the base came from, one could surmise that it was probably cheaper to ship discarded stone from Georgia to Newark to save money.

I urge Newark leaders, cultural and political, to make their own history but, not at the expense of others.

 

Elizabeth Del Tufo is president of Newark Landmarks and former director of the Newark Boys Chorus.

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