Luigi del Bianco was an Italian-American who would have died in relative obscurity without the efforts of his son and grandson.
Born in 1892, Luigi grew up in Meduno, northeast of Venice. He studied stone carving in Venice and Vienna. He emigrated to the United States at a young age (17) and eventually settled in Port Chester, New York. There he met Gutzon Borglum of Danish descent who hired him to work in his Stamford, Connecticut studio. They worked together on several stone memorials. Then Borghum recruited him in 1933 to follow him to the Black Hills of South Dakota to work on a huge project.
Between 1927 and 1941, 400 people worked on the sculpting of Mount Rushmore under the direction of Borghum, the designer and chief engineer. He hired del Bianco to be Chief Carver, with the responsibility of refining the facial expressions on the 60-foot-high heads of presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. Del Bianco fixed a foot-deep crack in Jefferson’s lips with a patch and he sculpted Lincoln’s eyes, highlighting the pupils with wedge-shaped granite stones to reflect the light. “I know every line and ridge, each small bump and all the details so well,” he told a newspaper in 1966.
In 1941 Borghum died, financing dried up, and plans to carve the torsos of the presidents to the waist were abandoned. Del Bianco returned to Port Chester where his company carved hundreds of tombstones. He died in 1969 of silicosis, which is caused by inhaling dust from crushed stone.
In the late 1980s, a book called “The Carving of Mount Rushmore,” by Rex Allen Smith, never mentioned del Bianco’s role in the creation of the monument. That is when Luigi’s son, Cesar, sprang into action. Son and grandson conducted research. They found documents in the Library of Congress that confirmed del Bianco’s role. They even found writings by Borghum who said, “He [del Bianco] is worth any three men I could find in America….He is the only intelligent, efficient stone carver on the work who understands the language of the sculptor.” The National Park Service has finally recognized del Bianco’s role and posted his biography on Facebook.
Then Douglas Gladstone wrote a book in 2014 called “Carving a Niche for Himself: The Untold Story of Luigi Del Bianco.” He famously said that ignoring Del Bianco’s important role in the creation of Mount Rushmore was like writing about the New York Yankees without mentioning Joe DiMaggio.
Mount Rushmore is the background of the last scene in one of my favorite films, “North by Northwest” (“L’intrigo Internazionale”) by Alfred Hitchcock.