Mt Rushmore

From Kilburn to Mount Rushmore: The story of Gutzon Borglum

Mt Rushmore

Mount Rushmore: Photo by Brian Sandoval on Unsplash

It’s Thanksgiving in America, so what better time to dig into the link between Kilburn and the man behind one of the most iconic landmarks in the US.

American artist and sculptor Gutzon Borglum lived and worked at Harlestone Villa in Mortimer Road, Kilburn from about 1897 to 1902. The property was later renumbered as 6 Mortimer Place but was damaged in 1944 by the V1 flying bomb which destroyed North Hall, the house next door. Both buildings were demolished and today the site is covered by Halliwell House on the Kilburn Gate estate.

While at Harlestone Villa, Borglum painted murals for private homes but he is best known as the sculptor who produced the giant heads of US presidents carved into the summit of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.

Gutzon Borglum in 1919

Born in a frontier town in Idaho in 1867, Borglum was of Danish extraction. His father was a Mormon with two wives who were sisters. Borglum ran away from home to study art in California, and at the Julien Academy and the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris where he was influenced by Rodin.

He arrived in London in 1896 and rented a studio in West Kensington before moving to Kilburn. Although gaining recognition as an artist he was not earning a lot of money. He said, “I have had the disturbing pleasure of being called Master by the French critics and some Americans, yet at the moment I cannot spend sixpence without wondering where the next one will come from.”

In 1901, the daughter of a Californian friend came to stay at Harlestone Villa. Her name was Isadora Duncan and at a party she danced for Borglum on the villa’s large lawn, scattering rose petals behind her.

Borglum received a commission for twelve painted panels to be installed in the Midland Railway Company’s new hotel in Manchester. The fee was five thousand guineas (today worth about £550,000). In 1903 he supervised installation of the panels which were made in America. They depicted scenes from ‘A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream’ and the court of King Arthur.

Returning to America, Borglum became a very successful sculptor. His politics were crude; he was anti-immigrant and a racist. He criticised other artists and even called for the destruction of a public statue. Borglum courted the press and they loved him. In 1915 he put his reputation on the line and promised to make a huge monument to Southern Confederacy at Stone Mountain in Georgia. His patrons, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, did not have sufficient funds so he mortgaged his 500-acre estate in Connecticut. But after ten years he had completed less than a tenth of the carving and was fired by the Stone Mountain Association, accused of wasteful expenditure and having an ungovernable temper. The Association claimed ownership of his models and put out a warrant for Borglum’s arrest. He destroyed the models and became a fugitive, deeply in debt and publicly humiliated.

Doane Robinson, a South Dakota historian, had read about the large numbers of people travelling to Georgia just to watch Borglum at work. He believed that a mountain carving could put the little known South Dakota on the map. He wrote to Borglum suggesting a project in the Black Hills, perhaps carvings of the western explorers Lewis and Clark, Buffalo Bill and Chief Red Cloud. Borglum replied that national heroes would be better and it should be the Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt (a personal friend of Borglum). But the attempt to raise $50,000 as seed money from the public only realised $5,000. The project became a joke. One paper said, “Borglum is about to destroy another mountain, thank God it is in South Dakota where no one will ever see it.”

President Calvin Coolidge was persuaded to spend a summer holiday in South Dakota and this helped raise the total to $42,000. Coolidge pledged the government would provide additional funds. In 1929, Borglum began work with only about a tenth of the money he needed. He didn’t even know if the project was feasible as it was 500 feet to the top of Mount Rushmore and the weather in winter would make work impossible. Using jack hammers and dynamite Borglum thought the figures would take four years to complete. But money ran out and work slowed down.

In 1931 the Rushmore Association was in debt with little chance of raising any further funds during the Depression. Worse was to follow, after a severe drought created the Dustbowl. People left the state in droves and work stopped completely in 1932. Borglum and Senator Peter Norbeck persuaded influential contacts to obtain federal funds from the National Park Service and work recommenced after a year’s delay. Borglum’s 21 year old son Lincoln, who was very popular with the 400 workmen, was the site supervisor when his father was away.

In March 1941, just as he was completing the sculptures, Gutzon Borglum died suddenly from complications after surgery. He was 73. Congress stopped all funding as the United States joined the Second Wolrd War that December but Borglum’s son Lincoln finished the project, which had taken 14 years and involved removing half a million tons of granite to form the four 60-feet high figures.

Here is a film showing Gutzon Borglum working on the mountain:

Be a tourist in Kilburn’s dispersed art installation

Think you know Kilburn? A new art project invites you to (re)discover Kilburn High Road and the surrounding streets.

Sculptures by Yunsun Jung

Sculptures by Yunsun Jung

For the project, entitled You Are Here, the organisers have brought together artists and local businesses to create a number of diverse artworks scattered throughout shops, cafés and public spaces. It runs until November 2nd.

Kingsgate Project Space, on Kingsgate Road, has been transformed into a “tourist information office” for the duration of the experiment. When I dropped in on Sunday, the day after the project’s launch, I found it complete with postcard racks, maps, and welcoming “Tour Agents” on hand to answer questions about the art on display around the neighbourhood.

A map of exhibits and selection of Kilburn postcards

A map of exhibits and selection of Kilburn postcards

One of the tour agents, or project organisers, was Sam Mckeown, who told me many of the artists had been inspired by Kilburn and their surroundings, and hoped to engage with the community through what they had created. He said the hope was “to get people visiting places and seeing things they might usually just walk past”.

After taking a brochure and map, I set off, excited to be sightseeing in my own area. After checking out the artworks on display in and around the Kingsgate centre itself, including some sculptures crafted from discarded cardboard found on the streets of Kilburn, I made my way to Folkies Music on the High Road – a fascinating shop in its own right – where artist in residence Vesta Kroese has spent the past few weeks working with the shop’s spaces and contents to create an exhibit entitled 13 Ways of Looking at a Guitar. 

Down the road at Cara Cosmic Coffee, there’s an installation by Chloë Morley, a video installation in the basement, and an interactive drawing game for families intriguingly titled The Doughnuts for Peace Union.

It is an interesting and quirky celebration of an area I thought I knew well, and I liked having the opportunity to slow down and discover some of the shops and sights I’d usually walk past, whilst finding hidden artwork in and among. There are many sculptures, installations, performances and other art in various locations, so it is possible to visit just one or two, or devote more time to following one of the self-guided art trails. Whichever you choose to do, I’d recommend the tourist office at Kingsgate Project Space as a good starting point.

So in the words of the tour brochure, why not “Come and celebrate Kilburn High Road’s uniqueness before the inevitable onslaught of gentrification!”

The "tourist office" entrance

The “tourist office” entrance

Object idea by Vesta Kroese

“Object idea” by Vesta Kroese, on display at Folkies

Shop basement transformed into gallery space by Vesta Kroese

Shop basement becomes gallery space for Vesta Kroese. Even the door that’s ajar is art!

Read more on the You Are Here Tumblr page or follow them on Twitter or Facebook.

Wall of sound: Art guitars on display at local restaurant


The Wet Fish Café on West End Lane often showcases artists’ work on its tiled walls but, for another week, there’s a different kind of artwork on display.

West Hampstead resident Steven Marlow, builds professional-quality guitars for musicians, celebrity clients and collectors from all over the world, working closely with each customer to create bespoke instruments to their specifications. His guitars are in many celebrity collections, including those of Queen’s legendary guitarist Brian May and The Kooks’ frontman Luke Pritchard.

For his ongoing Art Guitars project, he collaborates with established and up-and-coming artists, most notably leading British artist Stuart Semple, to create these unique and striking works.

Steven said the Wet Fish Café was the logical place for his latest exhibition as “I’ve been going to the Wet Fish for years”.

For anyone interested in seeing Steven’s work, you have until 30th October to go and check out these beauties over brunch…


Steven Marlow, guitar maker, with Wet Fish Café owner André Millodot

Steven Marlow, guitar maker, with Wet Fish Café owner André Millodot

West Hampstead screen prints for sale

Many of you will remember an article back in July about artist Martin Robertson who was interested in finding out what we thought symbolised West Hampstead.

Many of you gave your thoughts on this and Martin went away to work on his interpretation.

Lots of West Hampstead landmarks there – bonus points for spotting the Czech chef, and the #whamp hashtag!

You can order the black & white screenprint or the colour versions directly from Martin.

Kilburn Grand Tour in October

October is “Kilburn month” at the Kingsgate Workshops.

As part of a collaboration between the front-of-house volunteers at Camden Arts Centre and the Kingsgate Workshops Trust, Kingsgate Gallery’s exhibition project is focused on the artistic exploration of the Kilburn area and its history, and especially the engagement with the local community.

What’s on? Let me hand over to the organisers to whet your appetite. You can also check out the latest news regarding the exhibition.

As well as the specific events listed below, Asako Taki’s blog project, which started in May 2012, reflects her encounters with the people of Kilburn. Throughout October, Deborah Farr installs a glow-in-the-dark mural in the Iverson Road arches, while the collective Kilburn-Mapping-Project of Cornelia Marland continues to grow within the gallery, through the help of our visitors. Also inside Kingsgate, Suits Meso’s flag-and-sound installation is displayed alongside a performance-wall drawing by Evy Jokhova. Jokhova is also making a short film that follows one day in Kilburn for 50 years using archival documents and footage filmed by herself.

So drop into the gallery Thursday–Sunday from midday to 6pm (it’s free), or come to one of the events.

October 4: Kilburn Grand Tour Opening Night 6pm-9pm

Join us for the opening night of our one month-long creative and artistic exploration of Kilburn. As with any Grand Tour we know our destination, but the journey is not set… From hidden rivers, imagined maps, and constantly-evolving art we need your help to inspire our voyage.

As the project evolves, the gallery space will change, so don’t miss your chance to see what might not be visible a week later. Help us give our project the best possible start and join us for the official kick-off of The Kilburn Grand Tour at the Kingsgate Trust Gallery.

October 6: Blue Flower River Project – Gardening Event 2pm-4pm [Ed: I think this sounds like a brilliant idea]

Join in this celebration and remembrance of the River Westbourne with a gardening twist! Guided by Helene Latey, walk the river path and see the Blue-Flower-River project along the way.

Come back to Kingsgate gallery for refreshments and a short presentation on Green living given by the Camden council Sustainability Team. Also at the gallery, pick up a river map and wildflower seeds and get involved in some guerrilla gardening of your own as you continue the river walk through the Kilburn streets.

October 13: Suit Meso’s Flag Making Workshop 1pm-4pm

Come along and get creative at this flag making workshop. Learn about flags from around the world, draw on your cultural influences and merge symbols and signs to design and make your own personal flag.

Led by artist Suits Meso and tying in to his artistic practice, this workshop will result in the creation of a large scale “Kilburn Flag” constructed from the individual flags produced on the day and to be displayed as part of the Kilburn Grand Tour exhibition.

October 14: River Talk: “The River Westbourne – Kilburn’s Hidden River” 6pm-8pm

Could there be a river running beneath your feet, or even beneath your house? Now’s the time to find out as river historian Stephan Myers, author of Walking on Water, London’s Hidden Rivers Revealed, will reveal Kilburn’s own hidden river in his presentation on the River Westbourne.

Learn the fascinating history of this now underground river, map its location beneath the Kilburn streets and follow its influence and role within the Kilburn landscape all within the art filled atmosphere of the Kingsgate Gallery.

October 19: Evy Jokhova: Kilburn Grand Tour 5pm-6.30pm

Jokhova’s Kilburn Grand Tour opens to the public with a screening of a film compiled from newspaper clippings, personal and borrowed film footage that follows Kilburn on one day in October for the past 50 years. The screening of Kilburn Grand Tour will be accompanied by a public panel discussion between artist Nicola Lane, Kilburn historian Dick Weindling and local residents on what makes Kilburn a ‘home’.

Following on from this Jokhova will create a week-long performance drawing in the gallery space inspired by the contents of the discussion.

October 19: Artist Talk and Walk 7pm-9pm

Live in Kilburn? Long to live in Kilburn? Or just want to get to know Kilburn a bit better? What better way than to come along for our special Artist Talk, and let our artists illuminate (literally) this wonderful area of North-West London for you!

Following the overground trail of the hidden River Westbourne, artists Helene Latey, Deborah Farr and Lara Smithson will take you on an hour-long walk through Kilburn, presenting their artworks along the way; an experience which will make you see your surroundings and community in a whole new light. The walk will end up at Kingsgate Trust Gallery where there will be refreshments, more art and the chance for everyone to contribute to our very own Kilburn-map.

October 26: Closing Party 6pm-9pm

The Kilburn Grand Tour’s closing party will take place on the final Friday of October. Come along for the final chance to see our artists’ completed work, catch-up with our process and celebrate the creative and artistic life and spirit of Kilburn.

If you’re not familiar with the Kingsgate Workshops Trust, it supports a wide range of arts and crafts in studio spaces of variable sizes. The workshops are a converted 19th century warehouse which provides studio space for more than 50 artists and crafts people as well hosting up to 12 public exhibitions a year.

Art exhibition to help London’s homeless

This Saturday, head down to Gloves Boxing Club on Broadhurst Gardens (just round the corner from the tube) to a pop-up exhibition.

It’s for a charity print project inspired by London 2012. London Street Prints is a collection of limited-edition prints by a group of different artists & designers. All proceeds go to London-based charity, Broadway Homelessness & Support. Broadway’s figures show that from 2011 to 2012 the total number of people sleeping rough on the streets of London had increased by 43% on the previous year.

The exhibition aims to raise £2,012 over the course of the Olympics. You can see some of the designs at Each print is priced at £49 for an A3 giclee edition.

London Old & New, Bryan Kitch

Love Parks; Love Fortune Green

This week is Love Parks week. Fortune Green is getting involved with a raft of events. 

Monday 6 to 8pm: Evening drawing class – come after work and do some drawing on the Green, with an informal glass of wine! Class led by Andrea the artist

Tuesday 1:30pm for one hour: Health walk -a gentle walk in a relaxed and friendly environment.

Tuesday from sundown: Outdoor film – on our third attempt we will be showing ‘Breaking Away’.

Thursday morning: Photography class on the Green -a little walk round the Green taking photographs on and of it, led by local photography teacher Peter Coles.

Capturing the essence of West Hampstead

Local artist Martin Robertson contacted me last week to ask for my – and your – help.

Martin produces screen prints of local areas, based around what makes them great places to live. That’s the usual shops, bars, restaurants, along with anything and everything that people hold dear.

Here you can see what he’s done for Queen’s Park.

Martin needs our help to capture what it is about West Hampstead that we all love. Specifically, he wants to encapsulate the local quirks and personality of an area as the the simple day-to-day places that makes people love the area they live.

I’ll get the ball rolling with some ideas, but please add your comments below so Martin can do more than just draw on what I think!

  • train stations (specifically the new Thameslink)
  • the strip of shops including Peppecorns which won’t be around much longer
  • the view from West End Green down the curve of West End Lane where the majority of cafés are
  • The Gallery
  • mansion blocks (and the general red brick architecture)
  • our situation between Kilburn and Hampstead
  • the 139 bus
  • longer-established businesses (e.g., La Brocca, Lately’s, The Wet Fish Café, West End Lane Books)
  • the newer ones (e.g., Spiga, Ladudu and The Kitchener)
  • police horses
  • the fire station
  • Davids Deli
  • the Jester Festival
  • and finally – the Twitter community, which is unquestionably the most active and engaged local online group in north London, and quite possibly one of the most lively in the country. For me, nothing captures that like #whampgather.

Those are some of my thoughts, but what, or who, captures the heart of West Hampstead for you? 

Kingsgate Open Studios weekend

If you’ve ever cut through the back streets to get to Kilburn, you may well have walked past the Kingsgate artist studios and wondered what exactly they were. They are actually a converted 19th century warehouse that now provides workshop facilities for more than 60 artists and craftspeople. And now’s your chance to look inside. This weekend is the studio’s open days, from 12-6pm on Saturday and Sunday, and there’s a preview on Friday night from 6-9pm.

The Open Studios event will include the Kingsgate Mini Olympics housed in our education building, where children and families will be ableto participate in a variety of arts/sport workshops, such as ‘Athlete Splatlete’. Do have a look at all the details of the weekend.Creative workshops and activities will run throughout the weekend. Refreshments are also available, and entry is free.