Art Notes: Waiting for Lincoln in Cornish

  • Henry Duffy, curator at Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site holds a life mask cast of Abraham Lincoln at the site on May 15, 2016 in Cornish. A replica of Augustus Saint-Gaudens' sculpture "Standing Lincoln" is coming to the site in summer 2016. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • A small version of Augustus Saint-Gaudens' sculpture "Standing Lincoln" sits in the entranceway of the visitors center at the historic site in Cornish, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • A replica of Augustus Saint-Gaudens' sculpture "Standing Lincoln" will stand hear at Saint-Gaudens' National Historic Site in Cornish, N.H. this summer. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Langdon Morse was the model used for Augustus Saint-Gaudens' sculpture "Standing Lincoln". Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Saint-Gaudens' sculpture "Standing Lincoln" is on display at Chicago's Lincoln Park. (Andrew Horne photograph)

  • Conservationists work in Gettysburg, Penn., to cast a duplicate of Saint-Gaudens' "Standing Lincoln" sculpture from the plaster pieces that are part of the collection in Cornish, N.H. It is to be installed at the site later in 2016. (Courtesy Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/18/2016 10:00:48 PM

The sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens saw Abraham Lincoln three times in his life: when Lincoln passed in procession through New York City on his way to Washington, D.C., for his inauguration in 1861, and again after Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, when his funeral cortege came through the city and Saint-Gaudens twice paid his respects to Lincoln, who lay in state at City Hall, prior to the long train journey taking him home to Illinois.

Saint-Gaudens was nearly 13 when Lincoln stopped in New York prior to his inauguration, and was 17 at the time of the assassination. When news of Lincoln’s death broke in the city, Saint-Gaudens found his parents weeping at breakfast, said Henry Duffy, curator at the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish.

Little could Saint-Gaudens have realized then how closely he would become associated with Lincoln — and other Union heroes of the Civil War — during his career as one of the most sought-after sculptors in American art.

In 1885 he was commissioned by the city of Chicago to create a bronze Lincoln sculpture that would stand in Lincoln Park.

The result, Abraham Lincoln: The Man, best known as Standing Lincoln, which was unveiled in 1887 before dignitaries who included Lincoln’s oldest son Robert Todd Lincoln and his son Abraham Lincoln II, towered over mere mortals. The statue stood 12 feet tall, on a 6-foot high base.

To commemorate both the 100th anniversary of the founding of the National Park Service and the 50th anniversary of the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, the site has commissioned a new casting of Standing Lincoln, which will be unveiled to the public on Sunday, June 26 at 1 p.m.

Saint-Gaudens depicted Lincoln with head slightly downcast, right arm tucked behind his back and left hand holding onto the lapel of his waistcoat. He steps forward, left foot coming off the base, as if he were moving forward toward the viewer, but is still deep in thought. Behind him is a chair, onto which Saint-Gaudens engraved the American eagle.

“It’s American democracy encapsulated,” said Duffy in an interview in Cornish.

This will be the sixth version of Standing Lincoln: the five others are in Mexico City, Los Angeles, London, Cambridge, Mass., and, of course, Chicago, Duffy said.

The bronze was cast at a foundry in Arizona from the 21 plaster casts used to make the Mexico City Lincoln, which are kept at Saint-Gaudens, Duffy said. Because of the size of Standing Lincoln, Saint-Gaudens made separate casts of parts of the sculpture and then welded them together.

The Standing Lincoln that will come to Saint-Gaudens is currently being welded together at the Gettysburg National Military Site in Pennsylvania under the direction of the National Park Service’s Historic Preservation Training Center. Gettysburg has a large sculpture shop dedicated to the preservation of the numerous bronze monuments throughout the Civil War battlefield, Duffy said.

Standing Lincoln will leave Gettysburg in early June and travel on a flatbed truck to New Hampshire, where it will be kept under wraps until the ceremony on June 26.

The base, carved from New Hampshire granite by Swenson Granite Works of Concord, is already in place. It is situated so that Standing Lincoln will be the first piece of sculpture that visitors see when they enter the grounds on their way to the visitors’ center.

Duffy said he had had it in mind for some time to bring a copy of Standing Lincoln to Cornish.

“It’s something that makes sense for us here. It’s the first piece that Saint-Gaudens did in Cornish, and he did it entirely here in Cornish. It makes it unique to us. It’s nice to have a New Hampshire Lincoln.”

Whether we realize it or not, when Americans think of Lincoln, William Tecumseh Sherman, Admiral David Farragut and Robert Gould Shaw leading the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, one of the first African-American regiments in the Union Army, it’s Saint-Gaudens’ monumental bronze sculptures of these men that often spring to mind.

In victory, iconography is everything. How we memorialize wars and the people who fight them speaks to our notions of who we are as humans, and nations.

But monuments from the past rarely stay buried in the past. One has only to look at the debate this year over whether to remove a statue of Cecil Rhodes, both an imperialist and a founder of the famous scholarship bearing his name, from the campus of Oxford University in England.

In the 1990s there was vociferous argument over whether it was appropriate to put up a statue in London to Arthur “Bomber” Harris, the head of the British Bomber Command during World War II who called for the Allied carpet bombing of German cities, including the raid on Dresden in February 1945, which leveled the city in a firestorm and essentially incinerated up to 25,000 civilians.

And closer to home, in 2011, a statue of Martin Luther King in Washington, D.C., spurred controversy both because it was designed by a Chinese sculptor, rather than an American, and because it was discovered that a quote on the base paraphrased rather than directly quoted King, which many felt violated the spirit of King’s message. (The accurate quote subsequently replaced the paraphrase.)

In the case of Lincoln, whose life, record and character represent to most Americans a national touchstone, Saint-Gaudens had to make him both larger-than-life, and lifelike.

“It takes a great sculptor to come up with all of it and make it look simple. He brings the idea down to its core,” Duffy said.

Because Lincoln was well over 6 feet tall, Duffy said, when he approached people he often looked down to achieve eye contact. Saint-Gaudens knew this and worked it into his portrait of Lincoln. The effect is also to give Lincoln an air of contemplative humility.

For the face and hands, Duffy said, Saint-Gaudens worked from life casts made by sculptor Leonard Volk of Lincoln before his inauguration, when he was still clean shaven.

The story on Lincoln’s curled left hand, which, in the Saint-Gaudens statue, rests on his waistcoat, is that Volk didn’t care for how tightly clenched it looked. He asked Lincoln to hold onto something so that his fist looked more natural.

Lincoln went out of the room and did not return for some time. When he came back he brought a broomstick handle that he had cut off and sanded. This he held in his hand.

Saint-Gaudens asked a local man, Langdon Morse, who was around the same height as Lincoln, to pose for the body of the statue.

Morse, who was born in Randolph, lived in Windsor and had a reputation as a public figure. He was both a justice of the peace and a member of the Legislature, Duffy said, but they don’t know how the sculptor and the model met. As part of the story of Standing Lincoln, Duffy has been trying to find any of Morse’s descendents who could be present at the ceremony in June.

When Standing Lincoln was finally shown to the public, Robert Todd Lincoln said that Saint-Gaudens had best captured the essence of his father, Duffy said.

When Lincoln meets the public at Saint-Gaudens, there will be a performance by the 7th regimental band of New Hampshire, and Henry Holzer, author of Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War for Public Opinion, will speak.

On that October day in 1887, Duffy said, when Robert Todd Lincoln’s son Abraham pulled the rope to unveil the sculpture, there was a “moment of stunned silence, and the crowd surged forward. There was a huge explosion of admiration for it.”

Next month visitors to Saint-Gaudens will have the chance to make their own assessment of the sculptor’s achievement.

For information on the unveiling of Standing Lincoln on Sunday, June 26, at the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, go to www.nps.gov/saga/index.htm.

Openings and Receptions

This isn’t an opening, exactly. More in the nature of a celebratory closing. The Hood Museum of Art is throwing itself a party Saturday from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. in the now empty galleries. Visitors will have the opportunity to make art in the galleries and on the walls, so if you’ve ever fantasized about graffiti tagging a museum wall, here’s your chance.

There will also be film screenings at 5 p.m. (A Night at the Museum) and 8:30 p.m. (How to Steal a Million, an art-heist caper starring Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole), as well as live music and dance performances and a late-night dance party. Food and drink will be served, and there will be a cash bar as well, which will be open from 7 to 11 p.m.

Ongoing

Arabella, Windsor. The gallery exhibits works by local artists and artisans in a variety of media including jewelry, oils, acrylics, photography, watercolors, pastels and textiles.

AVA Gallery and Art Center, Lebanon. Works by Patty Castellini, Roger Goldenberg, Torin Porter and Jane Davies are on view through June 1.

BigTown Gallery, Rochester, Vt. “Director’s Choice,” a show of work by Varujan Boghosian, Ira Matteson, Helen Matteson, Nicholas Santoro, Hugh Townley, John Udvardy, and Pat dipaula Klein, continues through July 9.

Cider Hill Art Gallery and Gardens, Windsor. Gary Milek exhibits egg tempera paintings in the show “Plant Forms” through June.

Converse Free Library, Lyme. The collages of Barbara Newton can be seen through June 30.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon. Watercolors by Marlene Kramer, digital art by Eric Hasse, photographs by John Rush, oil paintings by Emily Ridgway, and pastels, acrylics and oils by Gail Barton, are on view through June.

Aidron Duckworth Museum, Meriden. The paintings of Lucy Mink-Covello can be seen through June 5. “Color–A Theory in Action,” a show of works by Duckworth, runs through July 24.

Hopkins Center, Dartmouth College. The Senior Major exhibition is on view in both the Jaffe-Friede and Strauss Galleries through June 19.

Kilton Public Library, West Lebanon. An exhibition of artwork by West Lebanon students runs through May 31.

Library Arts Center, Newport. The Juried Regional Exhibition, a group show, runs through June 16.

Long River Galleries and Gifts, Lyme. “Paradise Found,” a show of oil paintings by South Woodstock artist Liliana Paradiso runs through June 2.

Royalton Memorial Library, South Royalton. The exhibition “Louis Sheldon Newton: Architect Extraordinaire of Vermont” is on view through June 4.

Scavenger Gallery, White River Junction. “Cataclysms,” a series of pastels of cyclones by Randolph artist Laurie Sverdlove, are on view through June 28.

Two Rivers Printmaking Studio, White River Junction. Lynn Newcomb exhibits her prints through May 31.

Nicola Smith can be reached at nsmith@vnews.com.




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