Douglas Gladstone (Writer)

Anche il Monte Rushmore ha qualcosa di italiano

Nov 09, 2015 2589 ITA ENG

There are many ways to analyze the contribution of the Italian Americans to the society, the economy, the culture, the greatness of the United States. One of these ways is celebrating those who have given their talent and their hard work to build monuments known and loved by every American, and not only by the Americans.

There's an Italian who contributed with a very important role to build a unique monument, the most famous of the United States. Only a few Italian Americans know of him, and almost nobody knows his story in Italy: we're talking about Luigi Del Bianco, chief carver of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Douglas Gladstone has written a book about this, "Carving a Niche for Himself: The Untold Story of Luigi Del Bianco and Mount Rushmore", and he accepted to tell us something more about this very talented and brave fellow Italian.

Douglas, who was Luigi Del Bianco?

Born in 1892, Del Bianco was from the municipality of Meduno, in the Province of Pordenone, which produced a lot of talented taiapiera (stonemasons). The area is known as Friuli Venezia Giulia. These artisans were called the "Spizzapiera di Midun."

What was Del Bianco's job in the construction of Mount Rushmore?

Luigi was responsible for giving each of the presidential faces their "refinement of expression." He did more than blast away at the granite to sculpt the four figures - he gave the monument its soul, as anyone who has looked into the pupils of Lincoln's eyes can attest.

Please tell us something about your admirable commitment against the United States Department of the Interior's National Park Service (NPS), which has consistently refused to recognize Luigi Del Bianco as the chief carver of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

Well, first and foremost, thank you for your kind and gracious compliment. I suppose I am a person who believes that you cannot expect justice for yourself unless others have justice as well. That's one reason I got involved in this. There's also the incontrovertible evidence that exists. No less than Rushmore sculptor and designer Gutzon Borglum himself refers to Del Bianco as the chief carver in a July 30, 1935 letter.

Yet the people at the Parks Service have been totally dismissive. Luigi's late son, Caesar, found this letter in the Manuscripts Division of the Library of Congress, yet one official after another has chosen to downplay its historical significance and overlook it. And I think that's a gross miscarriage of justice. If Gutzon Borglum himself calls Del Bianco the chief carver, why isn't that good enough for the U.S. government?

But the other reason is that Luigi is being lumped together with the other workers. That might be egalitarian, but it's narrow minded thinking. You will never convince me that the man who was the hoist engineer -- the person who ran the elevator lift -- should receive the same credit as Luigi. You or I could probably learn to operate an elevator lift. I doubt the opposite would be true, that is, the hoist engineer couldn't learn what it takes to be a sculptor. The skill set and craftsmanship that Del Bianco employed while working on those faces can't just be learned in a few minutes.

I mean, it's ludicrous. Even Borglum's stenographer gets the same kind of credit on the "Worker's Wall" as Del Bianco, and I know she didn't risk her life swinging 600 feet in the air on a bosun's chair.

My November 3 dialogue with the official agency historian, Bob Sutton, proved to be overwhelmingly constructive and positive. I am pleased the agency is at long last leaning towards increased recognition for Del Bianco.

Why is Mount Rushmore so important in the history of the United States?

Located in Keystone, South Dakota, Mount Rushmore is one of the world's most renowned sculptures. The memorial, which turns 75 next year, has moved beyond the single focus of the faces of the four US presidents to embrace the vast diversity of cultural traditions and stories that make up Americans' national heritage. That's why I feel the US government is dropping the ball so badly by not telling the Del Bianco narrative; if the story of an immigrant to these lands, who worked on what is arguably the most iconic landmark in this country, isn't the realization of the American dream for a person to these shores, I don't know what is.

You are also working on the project of a documentary about the Del Bianco family, called "Through Lincoln's Eyes"...

The documentary is being helmed by a Peabody Award-winning producer and writer named Taryn Grimes Herbert, and I was filmed this past August speaking with a gentleman named Cam Sholly, who is the Midwestern Regional Administrator for the Parks Service. It was a very frank and candid discussion, and I hope I swayed him to my point of view, namely, that Del Bianco deserves posthumous recognition for his work at the memorial. I think it's why this story should resonate with people. Who among us haven't felt at some time or another cheated out of the credit we feel we're deserving of? So just from a perspective of equity and fairness, I'm hoping the federal government remedies this slight.

What would you like to tell our fellow Italians who live either in the US and in Italy about Luigi Del Bianco?

This is a great immigrant success story that is not part of the narrative currently being told at the memorial. When tourists visit, the park rangers aren't informing them of the work of this skilled artisan. And that's a shame. The contributions of immigrants built America. For instance, many of the men responsible for the stonework at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. were of Italian descent. But does anyone know their names? Ermelindo Eduardo Ardolino is known for his work at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, in Manhattan, but who knows of Luigi Del Bianco's work at Mount Rushmore?
Another reason why I feel so strongly about this is that there's always been a pejorative image of Italian Americans. Reality shows such as "Mob Wives" and "Jersey Shore" help perpetuate this image. Well, Luigi can be seen as a new, refreshing and positive symbol of what it means to be an Italian American, as a role model that someone can choose to emulate.

Does Italy, in any way, recognize or remember Luigi Del Bianco?

I know the Italian Consul General in New York, Natalia Quintavalle, knows about Del Bianco, but I don't know if the Italian government intends to formally do anything.

Michele Bernardo, the head of the Museo Provinciale Della Bita Contadina "Diogene Penzi" - Sezione Lavoro ed Emigrazione ( Provincial Museum of Rural Life - Section of Work and Emigration) in Cavasso Nuovo, a town near Meduno, has established an exhibition area to all the Friuli people which prominently features Del Bianco.

And in Meduno itself, a local hair stylist named Andreino Ferroli has turned his barber shop into something of a shrine to Luigi. His late aunt was apparently related to the Del Bianco family.

Of course, I'd like to see more done. This reflects well on the Italian people, that one of their own is associated with such an iconic American landmark and world renowned sculpture.

And if you permit me, I'd like to express my gratitude to someone who I never even met: a woman named Maria Cristina Piccini, of the Pordenone Tourism Office. I am especially indebted to her because my mastery of Italian is not that good ... "il mio Italiano è ancora molto brutto".

Where can our readers find a copy of your book?

New Yorkers can order directly from my publisher, Bordighera Press, by telephoning 212-642-2001 or accessing the following link: http://www.bordigherapress.org/ViaFolios4.html. Anyone else worldwide can contact Small Press Distribution, of Berkeley, California, at: http://www.spdbooks.org/Producte/9781599540672/carving-a-niche-for-himself-the-untold-story-of-luigi-del-bianco-and-mount-rushmore.aspx

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