As the man “who saved Thomas Jefferson’s face” and “brought Lincoln’s eyes to life,” Mount Rushmore National Memorial carver Luigi Del Bianco will finally get his due.
The National Park Service on Saturday unveiled a plaque recognizing the Italian carver who Gutzon Borglum, Mount Rushmore's designer, credited as the memorial's "only stone carver."
“He is worth any three men I could find in America, for this particular type of work,” Borglum wrote in documents on file at the Library of Congress. “He is the only intelligent, efficient stone carver on the work who understands the language of the sculptor.”
Despite Del Bianco’s contributions as chief carver, his recognition was minimal, with his name simply listed among the many who worked on creating the memorial.
The omission was painful for the Del Bianco family. But in 1980, when Rex Allen Smith published his book “The Carving of Mount Rushmore,” which ignored the vital role of the chief carver, Del Bianco's son Caesar began a campaign to rectify the situation.
Caesar would not live to see it happen. Upon his death in 2009, his nephew Lou Del Bianco took up the cause. He painstakingly read each and every Mount Rushmore document on file in the Library of Congress. And line by line, found proof in Borglum's own words that if not for Luigi Del Bianco, the Mount Rushmore Memorial may not have ever been completed — and most certainly would not be the magnificent monument it is today, a fact that Borglum, himself, readily admitted — writing that Del Bianco was the one — and only one — deserving of the title "carver."
Del Bianco immigrated to the United States as a young man, upon learning the country had a need for qualified stone carvers.
Borglum and Del Bianco worked briefly together on sculptures in Georgia and New Jersey. Then, in 1933, Borglum hired Del Bianco to work on Mount Rushmore. Twice, when money ran out, Del Bianco quit. Borglum sorely felt the carver's absence and did all he could to bring him back, paying him $1.50 an hour, or $72 a week — and bestowing upon him the title of chief carver. He charged Del Bianco with refining the facial expressions of the presidents. It was Del Bianco who repaired a 12-inch crack in Thomas Jefferson’s lip and created wedge-shaped granite stones in Lincoln's pupils so that they reflect the light and add life to the 16th president’s face.
In 2016, after 25 years of pleading by Luigi Del Bianco’s family, the National Park Service officially recognized Del Bianco as the chief carver in a Facebook post:
“Artist Luigi Del Bianco came to work at Mount Rushmore at the request of Gutzon Borglum, the designer and engineer of the stone sculpture. Luigi Del Bianco worked for Mr. Borglum during the seasons of 1933, 1935, 1936 and 1940. He was a Senior Driller until the end of July in 1935 when Mr. Borglum designated him Chief Carver.”
Saturday, the Park Service took the recognition even further with the unveiling of Del Bianco’s plaque in the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center Museum.
For Del Bianco’s family, it was a monumental occasion.