San Jancinto Museum of History

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Saving Sam Houston

Since its arrival in the museum over 70 years ago, a bust of Sam Houston sculpted by Gutzon Borglum has languished in storage at the San Jacinto Museum of History. Created as either an object in itself or as a model upon which a bronze was to be cast, the artist completed an impressive thirty-three inch tall paraffin wax bust of the American statesman, politician and soldier.

Due to its condition and the inherent difficulties in displaying such a fragile work of art, the piece has never been able to be publicly displayed. As a part of the museum's celebration this year commemorating 175 years since the Battle of San Jacinto was fought in 1836, the staff is planning to stabilize and conserve this important work of art.

The bust, which is mounted on a piece of non-pressure treated lumber that has twisted over time, displays several major cracks and has become brittle over time. The plan is to stabilize the bust and create a custom mount to effectively display the artifact and preserve it for future generations. This will involve techniques developed specifically for this project as a wax bust of this size and displaying these problems has not been conserved before.

Gutzon Borglum, an American artist who is famous for designing the monumental presidents' heads at Mount Rushmore and the massive carving on Stone Mountain near Atlanta, was also known for his public works of art commemorating important people and events in American history. Borglum modeled his sculpture on the famous 1857 image of Sam Houston by noted New York portrait photographer Fredericks. He sculpted the bust in the 1930s.

The artifact was acquired by the museum in 1939 as a gift from historian and museum founder Louis Wiltz Kemp. Kemp was widely regarded as one of the best informed people on the subject of Texas history and one of those persons most responsible for preserving its heritage.

Allowing this sculpture to be displayed to the public and the art world is an extremely important task that speaks to the mission of the San Jacinto Museum of History to "collect and preserve significant historical materials that relate to the early history and culture of Texas."

The museum is requesting contributions to help pay for the conservation and exhibition which is expected to cost approximately $50,000. Tax-deductible donations can be made online at www.sanjacinto-museum.org (see link on home page) or by sending a check made out to the San Jacinto Museum of History Association and mailed to One Monument Circle, La Porte, TX 77571.

Once conservation of the Sam Houston bust has begun, the public will be able to follow the progress through photos posted on the San Jacinto Museum's Facebook page.

 

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