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12-foot bronze Lincoln comes together in Gettysburg

Written by Lauren Boyer, Public Opinion Online | Jun 19, 2015 4:50 PM

(Gettysburg) -- New Hampshire, they say, has many "Lincoln-shaped men."

It was those words, uttered by attorney Charles Beaman, that lured Augustus Saint-Gaudens -- one of America's greatest sculptors -- to build "Abraham Lincoln: The Man," a 12-foot-tall bronze tribute to America's 16th president.

Now, 130 years later, a team at Gettysburg is rebuilding that history, crafting a replica of the iconic statue for a monument that will greet visitors at Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, a national park built around the artist's studio and gardens in New Hampshire.

Photos: National Park Service recreating famous 19th century Lincoln statue

"We have done some pretty indepth restoration on Gettysburg's monuments, but it's unusual that we're building one for elsewhere," said Gettysburg National Military Park spokeswoman Katie Lawhon.

Unusual? Yes. Surprising? Not really.

About 1,300 monuments dot the battlefield at Gettysburg, home to one of the largest collections in the National Park Service.

About 400 of these monuments are considered major works of sculpture.

Occasionally, the pieces -- many of which were built at the turn of the last century -- get struck by lightning or hit by cars. A few years ago, vandals knocked the head off the soldier standing atop the Fourth New York Artillery monument.

It was never found.

You'd never know it, though. The park's dedicated monument workshop located a duplicate of the statue and used it to model an identical head.

"Gettysburg has a skillset most national parks don't have," said Saint-Gaudens park superintendent Rick Kendall.

Gettysburg also has Brian Griffin.

The 47-year-old Red Lion man, an exhibit specialist with the Historic Preservation Training Center in Frederick, Maryland, has worked on statue repairs at many battlefields across the national park system. He has also done metal restoration at the White House.

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Photo by Shane Dunlap, The Evening Sun

Exhibition specialist Brian Griffin, left, preservation specialist William Morris, right, work on restoring plaster patterns of a statue of Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg National Military Park on June 4 in Gettysburg.

"What we do is going to be here long after we're gone," he said. "It's been here since before any of us were around."

Griffin is leading restoration for the Saint-Gaudens project. Last week, the dismembered torso, head and legs of Honest Abe sat on wooden tables in his workshop.

Like the battlefield itself, they have an eerie beauty -- and an interesting political history -- about them.

Circa 1960, President Lyndon Johnson wanted to give a copy of the statue to Mexico, so casts were produced from the original.

The fragile hollow casts, molded with plaster and burlap, were shipped to Mexico to be used in a foundry. Shortly after, they returned to the U.S., where they sat in a crate for more than 50 years, not always in the best conditions.

"It's like packing fine china and sending it on a rough trip in a box," Griffin said. "A lot of that happened over the years."

Lincoln's head, bowed in reflection, is especially damaged.

To get the details right, Griffin visited Chicago's Lincoln Park in March to take photos of the original statue, commissioned by Illinois businessman Eli Gates.

The first step, Griffin said, is gluing the broken pieces back together and sealing the seams with fresh plaster.

Next, Griffin and his team will make rubber molds of the pattern, which is broken up into 24 pieces.

The molds will be sent to a foundry and filled with bronze to create hollow pieces about one-quarter inch in thickness.

When the pieces return to Gettysburg, they will be assembled over a stainless steel armature, designed to increase the longevity of the monument.

When all's said and done, the statue will weigh between 3,000 and 4,000 pounds, Griffin said.

Lincoln will be placed on a flatbed truck, likely sideways to get under bridges and driven to New Hampshire, said Kendall.

"It will definitely catch some eyes, that's for sure," he added.

The statue will be unveiled at Saint-Gaudens National Historic site on Sept. 26 to commemorate the park's 50th anniversary. Placed on a path from the parking lot, it will be the first piece visitors see when they arrive.

"It was the Lincoln that brought Saint-Gaudens to New Hampshire," said Kendall. "It's fitting that it's coming back. The Lincoln is the reason we have a national park in Cornish today."

That kind of significance isn't lost on Griffin, an artist with 30 years of sculpture experience under his belt.

"We're just the current generation maintaining this history for the next," he said. "You feel a lot of pride in that. These are all national treasures."

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Photo by Shane Dunlap, The Evening Sun

National Park Service preservationists Tori Peterson, background, and William Morris, left, apply a coat of urethane mold rubber to a plaster pattern of the statue, 'Abraham Lincoln: The Man,' while working on getting ready to ship out the patterns to a foundry that will cast the bronze Thursday.

About the artist

Name: Augustus Saint-Gaudens

Born: March 1, 1848

Birthplace: Dublin, Ireland

Died: August 3, 1907

Education: Studied sculpture at Ecole des Beaux-Arts in France

Home: "Aspet," his estate in Cornish, New Hampshire

First major commission: A monument of Civil War Admiral David Glasgow Farragut, unveiled in Manhattan in 1881

Other famous works: The General William T. Sherman Memorial in New York's Central Park and the Shaw Memorial in Boston

Legacy: Saint-Gaudens didn't just make monuments.He designed the 1907 U.S. gold coins, at the request of Theodore Roosevelt. His $20 gold coin piece is considered America's most beautiful coin.

-- Information gathered from the National Park Service's website

About the statue

• The original statue, "Abraham Lincoln: The Man" was commissioned in 1884, 19 years after the president's assassination.

• Augustus Saint-Gaudens began the statue in 1885 after moving his family from New York City to Cornish, New Hampshire. His friend said the area was home to "many Lincoln-shaped men."

• Langdon Morse, a Vermont man who was the same height as Lincoln, modeled for the piece.

• The sculpture depicts Lincoln, his head bowed, standing in front of a chair and grasping the lapel of his jacket with his left hand.

• Lincoln's son, Robert, considered this the best sculpture of his father out of the many that were done.

• The original statue stands Chicago's Lincoln Park. Full-sized replicas were also installed in Mexico City,London, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Hollywood Hills, California.

• Casts of the statue's head are frequently given to dignitaries, including United States presidents.

• Saint-Gaudens' second Lincoln Statue, a sitting version of the first one, was destroyed in a 1904 studio fire and recreated by the Saint-Gaudens assistants.

-- Information gathered from the National Park Service's website

lincoln-3-600x340.jpg

Brian Griffin, an exhibit specialist for the National Park Service, takes measurements of a plaster pattern of the head that belongs on the statue, 'Abraham Lincoln: The Man,' by Augustus Saint-Gaudens on June 2 at Gettysburg National Military Park. With the help of fellow preservationist William Morris, left, the National Park Service employees are working on recreating the Lincoln statue for Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site. (Photo by Shane Dunlap, The Evening Sun)


This article comes to us through a partnership between the Evening Sun and WITF. 

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