Long overdue honor for Italian sculptor
by Douglas J. Gladstone
Jul 28, 2015 | 11555 views | 0 0 comments | 238 238 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I often wish I was Italian. But my late mother made spaghetti with ketchup, so I really didn't have much of a chance.

Apparently, President Barack Obama wishes he was Italian too.

At a joint press conference with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi this past April, the President said he considers himself "an honorary Italian because I love all things Italian.

"And the United States would not be what we are or who we are without the contributions of generations of Italian Americans," he added.

Mr. President, I agree with you. Our country has flourished for 239 years, in part, because of the contributions of Italian Americans.

Men and women such as Enrico Fermi, Frances Cabrini and Arturo Toscanini, to name a few.

An immigrant from the Italian Province of Pordenone - an obscure sculptor named Luigi Del Bianco, who was the chief carver of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial from 1933 to 1940 - should be added to that list.

Never heard of Del Bianco, who resided in Port Chester, New York, for nearly a half-century? You're not alone.

That's because the United States Department of the Interior's National Park Service (NPS) refuses to acknowledge him as the monument's chief carver.

Which is a head scratcher because Rushmore sculptor and designer Gutzon Borglum, in a July 30, 1935, letter that you can find in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress, clearly refers to Del Bianco as the chief carver.

An NPS official, Maureen McGee-Ballinger, admitted in the Daily News last October that she has seen and read this letter, but nonetheless refuses to call Del Bianco the chief carver.

If Gutzon Borglum himself calls Del Bianco the chief carver in his own correspondence, why isn't that good enough for the federal government?

At the 2007, 2008 and 2009 naturalization ceremonies that are held at Mount Rushmore every year, even the immediate past president of the Mount Rushmore Society, Ruth Samuelsen, referred to Del Bianco as the chief carver, and challenged all the new citizens to figuratively reach the heights he had attained in his professional career

Del Bianco's relatives and others such as myself have been attempting for the past 35 years to get the credit for Del Bianco that he wasn't accorded in life. But still the NPS is intransigent.

The Park Service chooses to lump all the Rushmore workers in one group, irrespective of job. And while that's very egalitarian, it also means that Borglum's stenographer, Ellen Katherine Kirk, receives the same credit as Del Bianco.

Ditto Edwald Hayes, who ran the elevator lift.

Egalitarian? Sure. But right? No way.

For an agency that allegedly practices multiculturalism and pluralism, this refusal to do the right thing is unfathomable.

Del Bianco, who was a decorated marksman for Italy during World War I, became a citizen of this country in 1929. And now, the United States of America won't even posthumously recognize his artistic achievements.

There are 18 million Italian Americans in this country who would be puffing up their chests with pride if the federal government at long last gave Del Bianco the recognition he is due.

I have asked a number of members of Congress to help me remedy this slight. After all, if being chief carver at what is arguably this nation's most iconic landmark isn't the realization of the American dream for an immigrant to these shores, what is?

Douglas J. Gladstone is former director of public relations for the Queens Chamber of commerce and author of Carving a Niche for Himself; The Untold Story of Luigi Del Bianco and Mount Rushmore.
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