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Local store selling rare artwork by Mount Rushmore creator

By APRILL BRANDON
Sept. 21, 2009 at 4:21 a.m.
Updated Sept. 22, 2009 at 4:22 a.m.


For years, it sat as a paperweight in the home of Jeane Funkhouser. In fact, her daughter, Charlene Mitchell, remembers having to dust under it the entire time she was growing up.

It turns out she was dusting under what may be worth millions of dollars.

For several decades, the Victoria family has been in possession of an extremely rare Steuben Glass George Washington head created by artist Gutzon Borglum, the man behind the Mount Rushmore sculpture.

Funkhouser, also an artist, was given the model as a gift from Borglum's son, Lincoln Borglum, in 1961 after they worked on an art commission together in Kansas.

"There were very few made, if any others than this one," Funkhouser said. "It's very rare."

Now, at 79-years-old and battling cancer, Funkhouser and her family are trying to sell the model of George Washington's head.

"We thought it would be a good idea to sell it. It needs to be somewhere special and not just in someone's living room," Mitchell, the owner of Charlene's Gifts in Victoria, said. "It needs to be somewhere where it will be appreciated. It's a beautiful piece of Americana."

The family has been trying to sell the piece for a year but with no luck. Mitchell said without something to compare it with, appraisers avoid placing a price on it and auction houses have so far only offered around $25,000 for it.

"It's worth millions. It's rare, there's not another one like it, it has great historical value. Steuben Glass itself is very valuable. There are a lot of reasons why it's worth a lot of money," Mitchell added.

The story of the George Washington head begins in 1930, when Borglum contracted with Frederick Carder, designer and carver of Steuben Glass, to produce some small heads from Borglum's models of the presidents, including George Washington, Funkhouser said.

The number of heads made is uncertain, although many more of President Lincoln's head were made since he was Borglum's favorite. The models were made for the purpose of promoting his work to raise the necessary funds for Mount Rushmore, she added.

In 1960, Lincoln Borglum, who also worked on Mount Rushmore under his father, contacted Funkhouser, an up-and-coming mosaic artist, to work with him on a replica of Rushmore for the National Reserve Life Insurance building in Topeka. Upon completion of the project, he gave Funkhouser, who went by the name Jeane Hunt back then, the Washington head, among other gifts, Funkhouser said.

"I had it on my coffee table for years but eventually I had my friend put it in a shadow box and that's where it's been ever since," she added.

Although the Steuben head of George Washington, which is about five inches tall and five inches wide, used to be on display at Charlene's Gifts, it is locked in a safe in Dallas, Mitchell said.

Mitchell is, however, taking serious offers for the piece and it can be shown by appointment.

For more information, contact Mitchell at 361-580-0711.

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