Standing inside the sculptor’s studio at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Lou Del Bianco looked out at the faces his grandfather helped carve more than 70 years ago and lost it.
“I saw the faces up there; it just hit me. I just saw my grandfather up there carving, and I just lost it. I just broke down,” Del Bianco said Tuesday as he recalled the day before his own performance this past weekend. “It was just a profound cathartic experience for me that represents a wonderful legacy in my family, and I think a wonderful legacy for one of the stories that make up the history of this country.”
Del Bianco’s grandfather Luigi Del Bianco was chief carver of Mount Rushmore from 1933 to 1940. The grandson was at Mount Rushmore on Sunday telling the story of how his grandfather helped mold the mountain into the memorial it is today.
“I’m literally extracting the story from the stone, and I’m basically letting America know about this true American dream,” Del Bianco said. “That an Italian immigrant, a classically trained artist, came from a small town in Italy and fulfilled his dream of carving something special.”
This was the first time Lou Del Bianco, who is an actor, singer and storyteller from New York, had ever done this most personal show.
“And this is the first time this story is being told because up until this point, nobody really knew about my grandfather,” Del Bianco said. “He was considered one of the ‘workers,’ he was considered a name in a list of 400 people, who while all were important contributors, my grandfather was in a different category.”
Blaine Kortemeyer, deputy director of interpretation and education at Mount Rushmore, said Del Bianco was invited due to his unique perspective on the workers who helped carve Mount Rushmore.
Del Bianco said his grandfather was introduced to Gutzon Borglum, the creator of Mount Rushmore, in 1920, and the two had an immediate mutual respect.
In his time as chief carver of the mountain, Luigi carved Abraham Lincoln’s eyes and “saved Jefferson’s face” by patching a crack in the president’s lip, Del Bianco said.
In the “Borglum Papers” from the Library of Congress, Borglum wrote that Luigi was “worth more than any three men in America” for his work on the mountain, according to Del Bianco.
Despite his achievements, Del Bianco said his grandfather had not received the recognition he deserved, claiming Luigi was not mentioned in Rex Alan Smith’s definitive book on Mount Rushmore, “The Carving of Mount Rushmore.”
“It’s kind of like talking about the Yankees and not talking about Derek Jeter or Joe DiMaggio,” he said.
While gathering information with his uncle, Del Bianco said he had contacted Mount Rushmore and talked with them about giving his grandfather “the special recognition he deserves.”
“And I’m happy to say after 23 years, Mount Rushmore is embracing this story,” he said.
Del Bianco said he is grateful he was invited to share his grandfather’s Mount Rushmore story this year. Now, he feels his grandfather is starting to get the recognition he deserves.
“And I have Mount Rushmore to thank for it, they’ve been great,” he said.
Del Bianco said his next goal is to have a permanent interactive exhibit about his grandfather at Mount Rushmore.
“So that the millions of people that come here will finally know about this Italian immigrant who helped carve this American icon,” he said.