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AJC archives: Stone Mountain carver opens museum

The story “Mountain carver opens museum” was originally published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on April 18, 1985. The museum closed September 1, 1986 due to financial problems. Roy Faulkner, the man who carved Stone Mountain, died on September 23, 2016 at age 84.

Fifteen years ago Roy Faulkner at age 39 laid down his thermo-jet torch and grounded his boson's cable chair. He looked up at the gigantic granite carving on Stone Mountain with reverence.  

The Porterdale ex-Marine realized the largest bas relief sculpture in the world would "last through eternity." He had carved a niche in history.  

The chief carver for the granite tribute to Confederate Memorial monument, Faulkner had chiseled 90 percent of the likenesses of generals Robert E. Lee, and "Stonewall" Jackson and Confederate President Jefferson Davis on a mountain older than the Himalayas.  

It was satisfaction and triumph he felt when he took down the last scaffolding, the last platform, the elevator shaft he himself had designed for the work which spanned half a century.  

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The awesome project - Lee's figure is the height of a nine-story building and his horse Traveller the size of five locomotives - had unfolded drama, complete with frustration, abandonment, sacrifice and death. It took three sculptors. One left, taking his designs and models with him, and would later carve Mount Rushmore. Another had time and money run out, and with that, a million dollars was gone with the granite dust, and only Lee's head was on the mountain's surface.  

It was in the last act of this drama that Faulkner, now living in Stone Mountain, hooked his torches to a star.  

For 8 years, 5 months and 19 days he literally lived on the monstrous precipice or swung around the mountain in the boson's chair, directing crews of six to 18 men. Etched in the granite woulld be fine details of the trio's hair, reins, ears of the horses, fingers, eyebrows. He worked seven days a week until the churches in the village complained of the noise. He withstood cold rains, high winds and heat of the sun and the kerosene-powered thermo-jets.  

After the dedication celebration was over in 1970, Faulkner pursued another dream, the chronicling of the story, the building of a museum.  

Sculptor Roy Faulkner (right), pictured here with President Carter, completed Stone Mountain's memorial carving in 1972.

Although this part of his life (he is now 52) hasn't had the drama of the carving itself, it too has had valleys and peaks. He had all the 48 books logging all the details of the work, thousands of pictures, parts of the original models, the tools for the sculpting and more stored. He wanted to share the experience with people. He found a supporter in Secretary of State Ben Fortson, who had revived the carving after it had laid dormant for 30 years in 1958. But Fortson's death erased dreams of both.  

Faulkner found a benefactor, but then finding a site became another obstacle. Stone Mountain Park, a state-owned facility, doesn't allow private concessions inside the park, a natural for this museum. Neither could it be worked out to be constructed in the village of Stone Mountain. Accustomed to overcoming problems, Faulkner found a site on bustling Memorial Drive a few miles from the mountain itself.  

After designing the 32,000-square-foot building, construction began a year ago. Faulkner built the glass display cases, arranged the exhibits and taught his daughter, Donna, how to be a knowledgable guide. She begins her career as guide the same year he began actually carving on the mountain.  

The Stone Mountain Carving Museum's opens Sunday with a flair. There will be clogging by the Whistle Stoppers, a young girls' group to entertain. Ms. Faulkner will be dressed in an antebellum gown designed by Jan Ashbaugh, who makes all the antebellum dresses for Stone Mountain Park.  

The carving of Confederate leaders looked much different in this 1920s photo than it does today. Borglum's original sculpture was blasted off the mountain and a new design, the existing memorial, was carved. (EDGAR ORR / SPECIAL TO AJC)

The museum includes exhibits such as an introduction to the sculptors, their work and accomplishments on the mountain from 1923 through 1972, photographs of the mountain before and after the carving, original table and cloths from the luncheon held on the shoulder of Robert E. Lee (platform) where dignataries in the 1970 celebration dined, tools of the carving, the model room and a theater for showing the 20- minute film on "The Man Who Carved the Mountain."  

Faulkner wants people to come and enjoy the musuem, which also includes a gift shop. "I have as much material still stored as you see here, " he said. " You can tell me any specific date between 1963 and 1970 and I can tell you exactly what we did on that day, " he said.  

Looking back on those years on the mountain, Faulkner said, "It seemed as if I had been there before. I was all alone, I was concentrating. I was constantly checking on details."  

Once, he remembered, when translating the scaled model to gigantic features of the men on the mountain, he felt something wasn't exactly right. Looking at the second sculptor's model, he realized the buckles on the horse's reins were backward! It was really no trouble to correct that detail on the mountain, he said.  

A few minor changes were made in the final carving. On the master model, which occupies an entire wall in the museum, Lee was holding the crown of the hat in the traditional military fashion. In the final carving, Lee holds the brim in the civilian mode.  

Also, the horses legs were removed in the final sculpture. The spur from Lee's boot rests in the museum. It weighs a ton.  

Famed sculptor Gutzon Borglum, shown here (at left) between 1923-25 with a plaster maquette of his vision for the Stone Mountain sculpture, was tasked with carving the original planned sculpture onto the face of Stone Mountain. He began his work in 1923 but his contract was cancelled in 1924. Borglum would go on to carve the figures at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. (AJC FILE)

Faulkner never had a written contract with the state. "A handshake with Ben Fortson was the contract. I was paid by the hour, but it was very little."  

Faulkner had a wonderful relationship with Hancock, of Gloucester, Mass., the sculptor who was commissioned to finish the carving, "my advising sculptor." of Gloucester, Mass. "He would come down every three or four months and on special trips if I called him. He is about 82 and still living living in Massachusetts. I talk to him by phone all the time."  

Surviving a fall from one of the scaffolds was frightening, but it never deterred him in continuing. "There was nothing between me and 400 feet. A scaffolding board was not nailed down and I slipped. My legs scraped the scaffolding and I grabbed the torch hose and water hose, placing both together and managed to c limb back onto the scaffold, " he remembered.  

But two other crew members were not to have such luck. In 1966 his crew left following the accidental death of one man. Another was killed by a fall in 1971.  

Homage is paid to the three sculptors, Gutzon Borglum, who began the carving in 1923 and left two years later taking his drawings and model him; Augustus Lukeman, who was unable to have little more than Lee's face when the deadline of 1928 came. Hancock was commissioned in 1958 when the state purchased the mountain and 3,200 acres surrounding it. Faulkner was first hired to work only on the weekends and later was persuaded to work fulltime.  

"I wanted this to be first class, " Faulkner said. "We feel we can handle several hundred at a time." It takes about an hour to tour the museum, but people may stay longer and browse.

Stone Mountain Carving Museum, 6080 Memorial Drive, open daily 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is $4, adults and $2, children. Group rates available. Telephone 498-8042.

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