Feds Finally Credit Italian Sculptor From New York as Mount Rushmore's Chief Carver

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For more than seven decades, the name of Luigi Del Bianco had gone unnoticed by historians chronicling the creation of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial.
Not anymore.
The United States Department of the Interior’s National Park Service (NPS), which is the federal agency charged with supervising and administering the monument, had previously lumped Del Bianco, a largely obscure immigrant from Meduno, in the Italian Province of Pordenone, with the 398 other men and one woman who worked at the monument from 1927 through 1941. All received the same recognition, regardless of their titles or contributions.
So in the annals of history, the stenographer for Rushmore sculptor and designer Gutzon Borglum received the same credit as did Del Bianco, who routinely sat in a bosun’s chair swinging 600 feet above the ground while giving the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln their “refinement of expression.”
That may have been egalitarian, but it was tantamount to an injustice that the Del Bianco family and I felt needed to be corrected.
When it comes to the underdog, I’m a sucker for stories about people who have been wronged, unfairly treated or hosed. So I channeled my indignation into the writing of a critically-acclaimed book, Carving a Niche for Himself; The Untold Story of Luigi Del Bianco and Mount Rushmore (Bordighera Press, 2014).
In the Park Service’s narrative about the memorial, Gutzon and, to a lesser extent, his son, Lincoln, are the only two individuals who were singled out for their work on what is one of the most renowned sculptures in the world. Further, an acclaimed 2002 PBS documentary that typically is broadcast close to Independence Day, as well as many of the books written about the memorial, conspicuously exclude Del Bianco.
In one of them, the late author of what is widely considered to be the preeminent book about the carving dynamics of the monument, admitted he was motivated to write his book, in part, because so many of the stories of the Keystone, South Dakota miners who worked at the memorial weren’t widely known.
Dr. George Lipsitz, the University of Wisconsin professor who specializes in teaching about race, culture and social identities in the 20th Century, once wrote that history is contentious in American life “because what we choose to remember about the past, where we begin and end our retrospective accounts, and who we include and exclude from them, these do a lot to determine how we live and what decisions we make in the present.”
So until recently, if you went on a guided tour of Mount Rushmore, which will celebrate its 75th anniversary on October 31, the park rangers leading the tour wouldn’t tell you anything about Del Bianco.
Once my book was released, both my publisher, Dr. Anthony J. Tamburri, Dean of the John Calandra Italian American Institute at the City University of New York, and I initiated an advocacy campaign to ensure that Del Bianco was properly credited for his contributions, and recognized as the memorial’s chief carver from 1933 - 1940.
There was never any doubt in my mind that we would succeed, especially since, in a July 30, 1935 letter from Borglum that is housed in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress, Del Bianco is specifically referred to as the project’s “chief carver.”
But you know the old saying; you can’t fight City Hall. Well, try going up against the federal government!
A large part of the reason that Anthony and I were so bewildered by this snub was that the Park Service is a big proponent of pluralism ― i.e, that there are always a diversity of views and positions to take rather than one single approach.
In fact, in a 1994 article written for the Journal of the American Academy of Religion entitled “Producing Patriotic Inspiration at Mount Rushmore,” Matthew Glass of South Dakota State University, notes that one important NPS goal “since the heyday of the civil rights movement has been the commitment to present the public with a pluralistic reading of the American experience.”
What better way to do that, we thought, than to honor your Italian American chief carver?
Though it took two years, the Park Service in May finally recognized Del Bianco, who resided in Port Chester, New York for nearly a half-century.

In this, the centennial of the Park Service, both Anthony and I are proud of the fact that our 133-page book helped get Del Bianco the kudos that he is so rightfully and richly deserving of. With 2.7 million people identifying as Italian Americans in New York State, including the 1.5 million residing on Long Island and in New York City, imagine how much they can now puff up their chests at the knowledge that one of their own was so crucial to the completion of what is arguably the most iconic landmark in this country? For if working on Mount Rushmore isn’t the realization of the American Dream for an immigrant to these shores, what is?

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