Skip to main content

Biographical Note | A Finding Aid to the Solon H. Borglum and Borglum family papers, 1864-2002 | Digitized Collection

Solon H. Borglum and Borglum family papers, 1864-2002

Biographical Note

Solon Hannibal Borglum was born in Ogden, Utah in 1868. His father Jens (James) Borglum and wife Ida emigrated to America in 1864, as Mormon converts. James took a second wife Christina who was the mother of Solon and his older brother John Gutzon de la Mothe. Christina left the family after just a few years, when James left the Mormon Church. James and Ida raised the large family, which included Solon, Gutzon, Miller, Arnold, August, Anna, Harriet, Theodora and Frank. Solon spent most of his childhood in Fremont, Nebraska, and in 1893 he became a ranch hand in Southern California. At this time he also developed an interest in art which he shared with his brother Gutzon, who was studying painting in Los Angeles.
From 1885 to 1893 Solon ran a ranch on his father's land in central Nebraska, but also took painting lessons from artist J. Laurie Wallace. After spending a short time at his brother's studio in Sierra Madre, and living as an artist in Santa Ana, he studied at the Cincinnati Art Academy under Louis T. Rebisso from 1895 to 1897. Solon then went to Paris where he met sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens who persuaded him to study sculpture at the Academie Julian. He studied there under Denys Puech and won numerous awards for works exhibited both in France and the United States. In 1898 Solon married Emma Vignal in Paris. They spent four months at the Crow Creek Reservation in South Dakota, an experience that greatly influenced his work. In 1901 Solon was elected to the National Sculpture Society, later becoming its vice president, and set up a studio in New York. Despite his success, such as winning the gold medal at the Art Palace at the 1904 World's Fair, confusions began between him and his brother Gutzon who decided to also become a sculptor. In 1906 he moved with his wife and children, Paul and Monica, to a farm in Connecticut called "Rocky Ranch." Artist Paul Manship became his student helper and lived with the family. Solon received commissions to do many monuments and memorials, but also continued to exhibit his work and participate in the local Silvermine Group of Artists.
From 1916 to 1917 Solon taught at the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design in New York and also developed ideas for an art textbook called
Sound Construction
, which he worked on with his student assistant Mildred Archer Nash. In 1918, he enlisted in the YMCA for overseas war work, attached to the Third and Fifth French Army. While there he was also the Director of Sculpture at the specially organized American Expeditionary Forces Art Training Center. When he returned home, he decided to establish the School of American Sculpture in New York City. He ran the school with great success, and gave many lectures on art and his experiences overseas until his sudden death after an appendectomy in January of 1922. His legacy was carried on by his wife Emma until her death in 1934, at which point his daughter Monica and her husband, A. Mervyn Davies, oversaw the exhibition of his artwork, and in 1974 published his biography
Solon H. Borglum: "A Man Who Stands Alone"
.