Solon H. Borglum (1868-1922) was born to Danish parents in Ogden, Utah. His father, a Mormon country doctor, had many horses that he rode throughout his life. When he was about fifteen, Solon followed his brother Gutzon (1867-1941) to Los Angeles where he was studying art. Solon became a rancher in Nebraska, a job that would provide him with material for his future artistic endeavors. Gutzon, who carved the monumental presidential portraits on Mount Rushmore between 1927 and 1934, urged Solon to leave the ranch and devote himself exclusively to art.
Solon studied at the Cincinnati Art Academy from 1895-98 and was drawn toward sculpture. After about two years he went to Paris to have a “look around,” where he won acclaim as le sculpteur de la prairie (sculptor of the prairie) and recognition at the Salon. He was encouraged by the American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848–1907), who introduced him to Emmanuel Fremiet (1824–1910), the French sculptor who became Solon’s teacher.
In 1898 Solon married Emma Vignal, a charming, sophisticated Parisienne of thirty-four. On their honeymoon, Solon took his bride to the Crow Creek Indian Reservation in South Dakota. It was an important summer for them both. Many of his sculptures, inspired by this experience, reveal his sympathetic understanding of the plight of the American Indian. Critics of the day were quick to recognize the freshness of his vision, which was “as invigorating as the air of the Western plains.”
In 1907 Solon, Emma, and their two children, Paul and Monica, settled at Rocky Ranch in Silvermine, Connecticut. Their house and Solon’s studio immediately became the hub of an artist colony.
After World War I, Borglum founded the School of American Sculpture in New York. Using his art textbook, Sound Construction (1923), over which he labored for the last ten years of his life, he directed the school until his death in 1922. Upon his death, tributes to his art and to his character appeared in newspapers and magazines throughout the United States and Europe.
In 1973 the Solon H. Borglum Sculpture and Education Fund presented the New Britain Museum of American Art with a large collection of Solon H. Borglum’s sculpture and related material. The Museum is deeply indebted to Mr. and Mrs. Mervyn Davies and Mrs. Paul Borglum for selecting New Britain, with Washington, D.C., as a leading center for Solon Borglum’s work. Special thanks also go to Mr. and Mrs. John Manship, son of the sculptor Paul Manship (1885–1966), who studied with Solon Borglum, for introducing the New Britain Museum to Mr. and Mrs. Davies.
Have you seen Borglum’s sculptures at the NBMAA ? What did you think of them compared to similar work by Remington etc.? Can you think of any other artists that used Native Americans or the West as their subject matter? Are these iconic images of the “Wild West”? Why or why not?