Published: June 22, 2016
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 Cornish, N.H., site has commissioned a new casting of “Standing Lincoln,” which is being unveiled to the public on Sunday, June 26, at 1 pm. Henry Duffy, curator at the site, says that Augustus Saint-Gaudens succeeded in creating an image of the iconic US president that is both larger than life and quintessentially Lincolnesque.
What is the connection between Saint-Gaudens and Abraham Lincoln?
Saint-Gaudens had seen Lincoln twice. He saw him when Lincoln was on his way to Washington for his inauguration in 1861; he went through New York City and Saint-Gaudens was in the crowd. He was just a boy then but he remembered seeing him go by in the carriage. He was struck by his height and his solemnity. In 1865, when the funeral train made its way from Washington to the East Coast up to Illinois, it stopped in Manhattan, and Saint-Gaudens, 17 years old, witnessed that funeral service and stood waiting in a very long line at City Hall to see the president lying in state. So he had two very intense memories and vivid images in his mind when he got the commission. Saint-Gaudens was one of the most successful American sculptors, but he didn’t like to be in competitions. So when the committee asked him if he’d like to compete for the project, he told them that he would be interested only if it was awarded to him solely. They thought about it and in 1885 he was commissioned by the city of Chicago to create a bronze Lincoln sculpture that would stand in Lincoln Park. That was unveiled in 1887 before dignitaries that included Lincoln’s oldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln.
How did the commission to recast “Standing Lincoln” come about?
It’s because this is the only one of Saint-Gaudens’ major monuments that was made entirely in Cornish. For most of the others, he would take them with him to studios in New York and in Paris — so it’s a uniquely New England monument.
And how did Saint-Gaudens come to be at a place like Cornish?
His attorney was a man named Charles Beaman from New York City. Saint-Gaudens was living in New York. Beaman had property here and said to Saint-Gaudens, “I’ll bet you could work quietly here. Why don’t you come on up. I’ve got some empty houses on my property, and you could rent one.” Knowing that Saint-Gaudens had the commission for Lincoln, he said, “You’ll find lots of Lincoln-shaped men up here.” So Saint-Gaudens came up in 1885, rented, liked it and kept coming back and eventually bought the place.
Coincidentally, when the legislation for the park here was signed by President [Lyndon] Johnson in 1964, someone gave him a bust of Lincoln that you still see in the Oval Office. When it was given to him, he used the presentation to unveil his landmark Civil Rights Act at the same time signing the legislation for this park — so it’s all tied in.
Where was the new casting made and what are some of the logistical challenges in getting a 12-foot-high statue transported to Cornish for the public unveiling?
Ours was cast by Bollinger Atelier in Arizona from the 21 plaster casts that are kept at Saint-Gaudens, and was assembled in Gettysburg, Penn., by the Historic Preservation Training Center team at the Gettysburg National Military Park Monument Shop. Although it’s due to arrive on a flatbed truck about a week before the unveiling, it will be kept under wraps until then because we want to keep a little mystery about it. The base was completed last fall by Swenson Granite Works because it needed to go through a winter to settle. It’s a 43,000-pound block of New Hampshire granite. The sculpture itself is 5,000 pounds, so it needs a substantial base.
How many other versions of this statue exist and where are they located?
This will be the sixth version of “Standing Lincoln.” There’s one in Chicago; a version was given to London, there’s one in Los Angeles, there’s one in Mexico City and there’s one in Cambridge, Mass.
What are your thoughts about how Saint-Gaudens imbued “Standing Lincoln” with the man’s character?
It was exactly how Lincoln stood to make a speech — his head slightly downcast, right arm tucked behind his back, left foot slightly forward, his right hand on his lapel, similar to the stance of a Roman senator. The suit mirrors one that the artist had made for the project. He even instructed his model, a local man named Langdon Morse, who was about the same build, to wear the suit until it showed creases from natural wear. At the Chicago unveiling of the sculpture, Robert Lincoln said it was the best image of his father that was ever made.
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