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Featured Work

Borglum-Maine

(JOHN) GUTZON (DE LA MOTHE) BORGLUM

(Bear Lake, Idaho 1867 –1941 Chicago, Illinois)

Remember the Maine

Tondo (roundel) in tropical woods, silver-gilt bronze surround, with (verso) geometric designs in wood marquetry
Diameter: 35 4/5 inches (91 cm)
This is a tondo named “‘ALTAR DE AMISTAD’ to commemorate the victims of the sinking of the Maine. Gutzon Borglum. Republica de Cuba.” The bronze label on the reverse refers to the USS Maine battleship that sunk in Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898. That event led to the Spanish-American war.

According to the (Pica-) typewritten label on the back of the tondo:

The Inauguration of the Maine Monument

“The ‘Altar of Friendship’ was presented to the Havana Yacht Club trophy room by General Enoch Crowder, U.S. Ambassador to Cuba {note, 1923-1927} and Doña J. E. Obregon after being removed from ‘La Capilla de Palacio’ (Palace of the Captains-General, now the City Museum of Havana) where it was housed since the funerals of the victims of the USS Maine. This Altar of Friendship was commissioned by Consul {and Major-General Fitzhugh} Lee {Author note: Lee was Consul-General to Havana 1896, retired in 1901 and died in 1904} and undertaken in design by the great American artist Gutzon Borglum, made of (sic) rare rare and tropical woods from Cuba (sic) finely marquetry with American Eagle with examples of local woods parquetry/(sic) marquetried veneered is silver plated bronze roundel of stellar design in memory of the victims of the US Battleship Maine.

{Note: The tondo is made of rare tropical woods from Cuba. Using marquetry technique, Borglum created a golden eagle surrounded by foliage. It is surrounded by silver-plated bronze frame with the words ‘Only those who are fit to live do not fear to die’,1 and ‘Habana Yacht Club’ commemorates the victims of the US Battleship Maine}

“For a time the ‘ALTAR DE AMISTADE’ was displayed inside a small chapel of rest at MORRO CASTLE AT SANTIAGO. On July 26, 1953 sometime after a disastrous attack on the military garrison ‘Moncada’ Santiago de Cuba, the ‘Altar’ was found wrapped in blankets. Since this time it has been in the Diaz Balart family, arriving under questionable routes onwards to the family Beach front estate in Daytona Beach.”2

Also affixed to the back of the tondo are photos of the Havana Yacht Club, and a card with a photo of President Calvin Coolidge and an American flag.3

Proof that the tondo remained in Miami for some time can be found in a letter from the previous owner’s widow: Her husband purchased the tondo at a closing sale at The Castaways Motel in Miami in the early 1970’s.4 The motel was a popular place (opened in 1958) in an area called Motel Row on the Sunny Isles Pier. The tondo was taken to Europe with the owner some years later, where it resided last.

Gutzon’s shift from his art in 2-dimensions to sculpture was one that he had practiced for some years before the execution of the tondo described here.

In the 1890’s, Los Angeles Times owner Harrison Gray Otis commissioned Gutzon to design a bronze eagle sculpture to match the eagle emblem on the Los Angeles Times masthead. According to an article in the LA Times5 , Gutzon had taken a studio in the basement of the Times Building and that was how his work caught Otis’s attention. Gutzon’s bronze eagle has a 7.5 ft wingspan. It is now in the lobby of the Times building at 145 S. Spring St. in Los Angeles. According to a Sierra Madre acquaintance (Gutzon lived there, just north of what is now East Pasadena, CA), Borglum also designed smaller wooden eagles (my Italics) that decorated various offices on the ground floor of the paper’s second headquarters, but these were probably destroyed when the Los Angeles Times building was bombed in 1910.6 Some years after the execution of the tondo described here, Gutzon designed a memorial oak-wood lectern (with bronze-like coloring) in the form of an eagle for San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral (c.1907).7

Our unique work was designed with a focus both esthetic and logical: as a (low-relief) ‘shield’ commemorating the US Navy and echoing its 2-dimensional symbol, and made with tropical woods, a direct reference to the Caribbean location of the event (the sinking of the battleship USS Maine in Havana Harbor).

Gutzon’s evolution to a predilection for local materials is explained by a recent letter from Adam Lerner, who wrote his dissertation on early twentieth-century American monuments (Johns Hopkins University), emphasizing the career of Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor of Mount Rushmore:

From a historical perspective, the fact that he used wood from Cuba for a memorial for Cuba is a very early example of his interest in using literal materials, trying to match the material directly with the subject matter, which is an interest he kept through Mount Rushmore. Later in his life, he believed that every civilization had a material that was most proper to them. His carving on Mount Rushmore was the most complete fulfillment of the idea of making a literal memorial, literally carving into the territory that he is memorializing.8

Gutzon also designed coins and medals; in other words, other works in low-relief, or incised. Our work pre-dates those flat or low-relief designs; the medals/coins were produced in 1912, 1915 and 1925.9 Likewise, the Stone Mountain memorial is an example of a sculpted work that is somewhat ‘pictorial’ in nature.



1 ‘Only those are fit to live who do not fear to die; and none are fit to die who have shrunk from the joy of life and the duty of life. Both life and death are parts of the same Great Adventure.’ Theodore Roosevelt, The Great Adventure (V. 19 of The Works of Theodore Roosevelt, national edition), chapter 1, opening sentences, p. 243 (1926).
2 NOTE: Rafael Lincoln Díaz-Balart y Gutiérrez was Majority Leader of the Cuban House of Representatives, and later Interior Minister under Fulgencio Batista. He was the brother-in-law of Fidel Castro, but fomented a backlash against the rise of Castro’s Cuban revolution, and the family emigrated from Cuba to Florida when Castro took over.
3 Calvin Coolidge traveled to Cuba for the sixth Pan-American conference in 1928. He was the only sitting American President to visit Cuba. Pres. Coolidge was closely involved in Gutzon’s work on Mount Rushmore.
4 In correspondence, March 22, 2011
5 http://articles.latimes.com/
6 http://sierramadre.patch.com/
7 In conversation with Grace Cathedral’s historian, Mr. Michael Lampen, Nov 21, 2011; he quotes text from “Rector Draws Lesson from Reconstructed San Francisco,” San Francisco Call, April 20, 1908: “…a carved bronzed lectern, also a memorial, from Mrs. Norman McLaren in memory of her mother, Mrs. Caroline Ashe, which was used for the first time yesterday. The lectern is of rich design, the work of New York sculptor Gutzon Borglum.” The oak piece features an open-winged eagle (book stand on back) standing on a ball which rests on an Ionic column swathed in ivy. The column base stands on a square base supported by four half-balls standing on a larger base with diagonal corners. The lectern is 77”tall, and the partly spread eagle wings give a width of 25”. The base is 20” across. The 7.5” diameter ball is inscribed 1832 BORN, CAROLINE ASHE, DIED 1904
8 In correspondence, February 24, 2011. Dr. Lerner is Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver.
9 Specifically, the 1912 American Red Cross Exposition medal; First Aid medal; the medal for delegates to the IX International Red Cross conference, Washington DC, with a shield and eagle and a cross; Red Cross medal of Merit; a 1915 medal For Merit from the City of New York, Independence Day; the commemorative half-dollar coin made to raise money for the Stone Mountain memorial, 1925.