The Spirit of Death


BORN FEBRUARY 28, 1842  DIED MARCH 10, 1915


BORN AUGUST 5, 1840  DIED MARCH 11, 1915




Most people are familiar with Gutzon Borglum, who was the artist behind the massive undertaking of blasting tons of rock and carving the face of Mount Rushmore with jackhammers to create the iconic mountain sculptures of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

But Gutzon was not the only sculptor in the family.  His younger brother Solon Hannibal de la Mothe Borglum (December 22, 1868 – January 31, 1922) was also an accomplished artist best known for his depictions of life in the frontier.  In fact, Solon was better known at the turn of the 20th Century than Gutzon until Mount Rushmore was completed.  It was only then when Gutzon eclipsed his brother’s fame.

Both Borglums were most likely influenced by the early wood carving work of their father, James Borglum—who later became a physician.  However, it was Solon who was an award-winning sculptor, including wining the Court of Honor at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915.

His works can be found in many places in the country.  Solon’s equestrian monument of General John B. Gordon can be seen on the Georgia state capitol grounds in Atlanta.  His bronze equestrian statue Rough Rider Bucky O’Neill, as well as, his statue Cowboy at Rest are displayed in front of the courthouse in Prescott, Arizona. Evening, a statue of a cowboy leaning against his horse, can be seen at the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, Wyoming.

Two of his works, Inspiration and Aspiration, stand guard on either side of the gate entrance to the courtyard of the St. Mark’s Church-in-the-bowery in New York City. Other works of his can be found in Jersey City, New Jersey and New Britain, Connecticut, among other places.

Along with famous commission work for monumental public works, Solon Borglum also created a funerary bronze for his friends Charles and Mary Louise Schieren.  Charles Schieren had been mayor of Brooklyn (1894-1895).  Tragically, in 1915, the couple died from pneumonia within 24 hours of each other and were buried in a double funeral in the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.

To commemorate their lives, Solon created a dramatic and haunting sculpture of Azrael, the Spirit of Death, as a memorial.  The statue captures the moment of death when many Jews and Muslims believe Azrael descends to free the trapped soul from the dead body.  In Solon’s sculpture Azrael is depicted as a cloaked figure, her hood draped forward covering her face.  She is bent over with her arms stretched touching closed books on either side of her.  Two books representing the full lives lived by Charles and Mary Louise.  The patina of the bronze oxidized giving the sculpture a light green cast except for Azrael’s face which is recessed underneath the hood giving the entire monument an eerie appearance unlike any other in the cemetery.

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1 Response to The Spirit of Death

  1. Wow. It reminds me of the Grief statue to Marion Hooper Adams in DC’s Rock Creek.

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