Editor’s note: Welcome to our newest contributor, Sarah Lewis, who just began working here at USCHS!
–by Sarah Lewis
On my first tour of the Capitol, I was so in awe of the building’s beauty that I was unsure where to fix my eyes. My favorite part of the Capitol, however, is without a doubt the crypt (which I will discuss in further detail at a later date), which is where the magnificent Abraham Lincoln bust is currently housed. Artist Gutzon Borglum created this masterpiece, which has the effect of Lincoln’s head emerging from rough cut marble, in 1908. In capturing the most prominent features of Lincoln’s face, Borglum truly depicts the essence of Lincoln. Lincoln’s own son even praised the bust in a letter to the artist in 1908, calling it, “the most extraordinarily good portrait of my father I have ever seen…”
Borglum is best known for the presidential faces of Mount Rushmore, and also for an unfinished piece at Stone Mountain, Georgia. His large-scale sculpture of Robert E. Lee on the side of Stone Mountain came to a halt due to controversy and a deteriorating relationship with the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
Many patrons of the Capitol (including myself) often ask why this bust of Lincoln shows him missing his right ear. There are many local legends about why this is. Borglum deeply yearned to create art that was wholly American and drawn from American sources. He is said to have stated that, “The monuments we have built are not our own,” meaning that art is often created as a portrait rather than a true representation. Some say that Lincoln missing his right ear represents Lincoln’s unfinished life. Other myths suggest that Borglum’s Confederate allegiances played a part in Lincoln missing his right ear, conveying Lincoln’s inability to listen to both sides of America.
Regardless of what you believe, the Lincoln Bust is certainly an integral part of the Capitol that is definitely worth a second look. And stay tuned: next week we’ll give you the true story about that missing ear!
12/20/12 post on Lincoln’s missing ear here