Thursday, 1 December 2011

M/M Interview with Lou Del Bianco

Image of Lou Del Bianco provided to Manner of Man Magazine/Welldressed by Lou Del Bianco and cannot be reproduced without written authorisation. All rights reserved.

This exclusive interview with Lou Del Bianco was conducted by Nicola Linza and Cristoffer Neljesjö in New York during May 2011

Interview with Lou Del Bianco

Your grandfather was the carver of Mount Rushmore, tell us about his background. Where is he from? Education and training?

My grandfather Luigi Del Bianco was born aboard a ship near La Havre, France on May 8, 1892. His parents, Vincenzo and Osvalda, were returning from the United States to Italy. When he was a small boy hanging around the wood carvingshop of his father in Meduno, Pordenone province, men of the village used to say, “How curious the little one is!” Vincenzo Del Bianco became convinced that his son was interested in carving and had more than ordinary ability. He took the 11 year old boy to Austria to study under a skilled stone carver. After two years in Vienna, Luigi then went on to study in Venice.

How did he come to the USA?

In 1909, cousins in Barre,Vermont wrote that skilled carvers were needed, 17 year old Luigi boarded the La Touraine out of Naples and headed for America. In 1913 World War I broke out and Luigi returned to Italy to fight for his country. After the war, He emigrated back to Barre, VT. In 1920 and after a year of work as a stonecutter, he settled in Port Chester, NY where he met his wife, Nicoletta Cardarelli.

How did Luigi come to be associated with Mount Rushmore designer Gutzon Borlgum?

It was his brother-in-law,Alfonso Scafa, who introduced Luigi to Mount Rushmore designer Gutzon Borglum.“Bianco”, as Borglum affectionately called him, began working at Borglum’s Stamford, CT studio and the association of the two men continued until Borglum’s death in 1941. Throughout the 1920’s Luigi assisted Borglum with the Governor Hancock Memorial in South Carolina, Stone Mountain in Georgia, and the Wars of America Memorial in Newark, N.J. Because of Luigi’s strong stature and classic Roman features, Borglum used him as a model on 20 of the figures on the Newark sculpture.

What was his role and contribution to Mount Rushmore?

In 1933, Borglum hired him to be chief stone carver on the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. His job was to carve the “refinement of expression” or detail in the faces. He was paid 1.50 an hour; a considerable sum for the Depression. Many of the men who worked on Mount Rushmore were trained by Luigi to be pointers and carvers.

In 1935 Luigi brought his wife and three sons, Silvio, Vincent and Caesar to live in Keystone.
The boys went to school, rode horses, became blood brothers to the Sioux and swam naked in the nearby streams. A daughter, Gloria, was born in 1946. She fondly remembers her father as "Charming, funny and very handsome."

In a 1966 Interview with the Herald Statesman in Yonkers, NY, he said about carving the eyes of Lincoln, “I could only see from this far what I was doing, but the eye of Lincoln had to look just right from many miles distant.” “I know every line and ridge, each small bump and all the details of that head so well.”

He also single-handedly saved the face of Jefferson; a task Gutzon Borglum would have entrusted to noone else. In Judith St. George’s book, The Mount Rushmore Story, she writes:

“Luigi Del Bianco,one of the best stone carvers Rushmore ever had, patched the crack in Jefferson’s lip with a foot deep piece of granite held in place by pins- the only patch on the whole sculpture, and one that is hard to detect even closeup.”

St George goes on to reinforce the value of him:

“At least he ( Borglum) now had the funds to hire skilled carvers, a lack he had been bemoaning for years. But to his surprise, with the exception of Luigi Del Bianco, few of the carvers worked out.”

Why wasn't Luigi given any credit or mentioned in most publications about his work?

My grandfather didn’t seek any credit because he was an artist with that old world work ethic: to be grateful for the work and the opportunity to use his talents in a unique way. Let’s face it, the media of the 1930’s was also very limited compared to today. There were not many opportunities to promote yourself. But he wasn’t worried about publicity and was honored to be paid 1.50 an hour to carve Lincoln’s eyes.

Now, in terms of factual evidence, we know that most authors who wrote about Rushmore were from the area and wrote mostly about the men who were natives of South Dakota. We also know that Luigi quit the mountain several times over lack of wages. “The Borglum Papers” out of the Library of Congress, tells, in Borglum’s own words, his frustration over the way Luigi was being treated:

“For the purpose of Washington's “red tape”, a portion of our better men are designated as carvers; there are no carvers on the mountain—
there never have been but one and he refused to return because of the chronic sabotage directed at him by influences in RapidCity, and the Park Department.”

“He is worth any three men I could find in America, for this particular type of work, here and now, but Mount Rushmore is not managed that way and doesn't want that kind of service. He entirely out-classed everyone on the hill, and his knowledge was an embarrassment to their amateur efforts and lack of knowledge, lack of experience and lack of judgment. He is the only man besides myself who has been on the work who knows the problems and how to instantly solve them. His absence is a great loss to this work this year. . . .”
“. . . The loss of Bianco will probably prevent the finishing of the Washington and Jefferson heads this year. . . .”- THEBORGLUM PAPERS, LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

So, when you put together the fact that Luigi was an immigrant, a victim of sabotage and a not selfpromoter, it stands to reason his accomplishments would not be recorded.

In spite of everything that Luigi went through, these were the last words he uttered publicly about his experience as chief carver on Mount Rushmore:

“I would do it again, even knowing all the hardships involved. I would work at Mount Rushmore even without pay, if necessary. It was a great privilege granted me”. –HERALD STATESMAN, 1966

What is being done now to give your grandfather the credit he deserves?

There are many very exciting things happening right now. First, a website has been created to get the story of Luigi out in to the ether. As a result, thousands of people now know about him. Being his grandson I created a one man show and portrayed him at Mount Rushmore on July 3, 2011. The performance was held at Gutzon Borglum’s studio, where Luigi spent long hours with the great sculptor as they developed the plan to execute the carving. Many of the park rangers who experienced the performance now include Luigi’s story in their daily walking tours. After 70 years, the “story in the stone” will now be shared for years to come.

The above interview with Lou Del Bianco 2011 © Manner of Man Magazine/Welldressed. All rights reserved. Reproduction is strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher.