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A Copley Newspaper
Serving Central Illinois
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Lincoln laid-back
Some recent statues portray casual Abes in informal settings

Published Sunday, July 02, 2006

PONTIAC - A new statue of Abraham Lincoln was unveiled last week outside the Livingston County Courthouse, depicting a young Abe relaxing for a few moments against a split-rail fence.

"They wanted a Lincoln that was approximately the age that he was when he came here, passing through when he was snowbound, which was 31 years old," said Germaine Knudsen, a member of Pontiac's statue committee. "At that time he didn't have a beard, so this guy doesn't have a beard and that kind of thing."

"They wanted something that would look like he was here - right here - you know?"

Pontiac is the latest Illinois city in recent years to commission a statue to celebrate Lincoln's travels throughout Illinois.

Like many of these - such as the "Lincoln with a pig" sculpture in Taylorville, the Lincoln family on the Old Capitol Plaza and Lincoln sitting on a bench outside the McLean County Museum of History in Bloomington - it portrays Lincoln in an informal setting.

Lincoln image experts aren't sure if there's a clear trend toward casual Lincolns, although Thomas Schwartz, interim director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, does think "the era of a heroic Lincoln is over."

Schwartz said smaller communities are beginning to highlight their local Lincoln associations, prompted in part by things such as the statewide Looking for Lincoln Heritage Coalition program, the televised Lincoln-Douglas debates on C-SPAN in the early 1990s and the presidential museum.

"The overwhelming success of those kinds of things gave new life to these communities who didn't realize that their Lincoln heritage" was important, Schwartz said.

"(Personalizing) Lincoln, making him event-specific, also is reflective in the literature. A lot of the scholarly interest over the last decade has dealt with a more introspective, private Lincoln, rather than the public Lincoln."

Bloomington sculptor Rick Harney created the interactive Lincoln statues in Livingston and McLean counties. Harney could not be reached.

In Pontiac, Lincoln is shown leaning against the fence, with both elbows propped up on the top rail. His trademark top hat hangs on a post, and his coat is draped over his right arm.

Decatur sculptor John McClarey, an internationally known Lincoln artist whose work includes the Lincoln-and-pig statue in Taylorville and the new Lincoln statue at Union Square Park, also has noticed a lightening of the tone of Lincoln depictions, at least in central Illinois.

But McClarey can't say whether it's a full-blown trend - after all, his new Union Square Park statue certainly falls into the "heroic" category. At the same time, though, McClarey has been asked by the Shelby County Board to sculpt a relaxed Lincoln scene planned for the courthouse in Shelbyville.

"I think there was a period in time when Lincoln sculptures were more formal and posed him as a savior or more a hero-worship type of presentation," he said. "But the sculpting has changed to show him with his feet on the ground."

Daniel Pike can be reached 788-1532 or daniel.pike@sj-r.com.

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