An Art Blog

Our Lincoln

Our Lincoln

The Abraham Lincoln statue is bronze, and stands 9 feet tall, 2,700 pounds atop a large granite base. The statue depicts Lincoln seated on a pile of rocks in a slumped, tired looking position hanging his head in deep contemplation. His forearms rest on his thighs and his hands are gently clasped together, relaxed. His brow is furrowed and mouth frowning. The granite base was installed in 2016, replacing the failing concrete base it originally sat upon.    Surrounding the statue is Syracuse academic buildings. Looking at the statue, to the right is Maxwell hall, the left Tolley Hall, and behind the statue is Eggars Hall. These three buildings create a small quad like area where the Abraham Lincoln Statue rests. These buildings have a lot of foot traffic from Political Science and Geography students as well as faculty and staff. It is a perfect spot on campus for the 16th President of the United States. Many people see the Abraham Lincoln Statue on a daily basis. At first glance, a viewer may only see Lincoln’s body position and the larger features of the statue but when examined closer, the rich detail of his facial features can be seen, bringing the question, “why is he so sad?” to mind. It has been rumored that he could be possibly thinking of his son’s death, his own personal failures or the civil war that America would soon have to face.

When I first saw the the piece while visiting Syracuse as a senior in high school I did not think much of the statue. During the tour, we were told by the guide that there is a list of 44 things a student should do before they graduate. One of these things was to take a picture in Abraham Lincoln’s lap. I remember thinking to myself that it was strange to encourage climbing up onto a statue of a president. Especially a president who appeared downtrodden. I shrugged it off as a silly school spirit thing and moved on with the group. In retrospect, it is interesting how a piece of art can be so involved with the campus at large. It is more than just art, it is a part of the school. Once I became a student here and started to see the statue more, it perplexed me. I have not seen a statue of a prominent person like Lincoln look so downtrodden in a piece of art. Especially not a piece that towers over me. It is spooky at night. He sits alone quietly, guarding the buildings next to him. Usually artwork does not strike me so deeply. I am not artistically inclined and never had much love for it. I find some sculpture to just be cool, and some architecture interesting, but for the most part I do not appreciate art as much as I should or as much as others. This feeling I had looking at Lincoln though was still not appreciation for the artistry. Instead, it was a stomach wrenching relatability to his facial expression. Something that I found to be very original.

As a matter of fact, the Statue of Abraham Lincoln on Syracuse University’s campus is not an original. It is a replica of the original statue created by James Earle Frazer in 1930 that is located in Jersey City, New Jersey (SU news). Frazer was chosen for the original statue because he was considered the times leading sculptor of public, monumental art (Maxwell). Frazer’s other works include Alexander Hamilton at the federal Treasury Building; statues of Lewis and Clark and Thomas Jefferson in Jefferson City, Missouri; and a well-received statue of the inventor John Erickson in Washington, D.C. (Maxwell).

Frazer has stated that he, “wanted to make asympathetic and human study of Lincoln. There are so many presidential Lincolns that I have hoped I might create something that would give an idea of his outdoor personality (Maxwell). This outdoorsy side of Lincoln would begin to explain the pile of rocks he sits upon.

The replica found on Syracuse University’s campus is cast from the original plaster mold and was placed on the campus in 1968, 103 years after Lincoln’s assassination, as a part of the program “A Museum Without Walls”. This program was put into place in the early 1960’s by the Dean of the School of Art. Its goal was to increase the number of art pieces in public spaces on campus. while Syracuse was growing from a small liberal arts school to a research University (Maxwell). Its goal was to increase the number of public art pieces on campus The cast for the statue came along with 500 pieces of work from Frazer. Those involved in the project of re-casting and placing the statue have stated that they are not sure who decided to re-cast Lincoln, but everyone agreed on where it should be located (Maxwell).

Frazer has given little information of the reason for Lincoln’s facial expression. Some have tried to decipher the look with ideas of Lincoln contemplating his son’s death, or the inevitable Civil War. Art critic Lorado Taft stated, ““The statue marks the beginning of a great life. . . . It shows [Lincoln] in his younger days of poetic vision, of promise rather than fulfillment.”(Maxwell) This idea of promise rather than fulfillment is one that students can resonate with immensely. As students, we constantly contemplate how the roads we take and decisions we make now will affect our future. We can at times look as Lincoln does, lost and drowning in our own thoughts. I myself have changed majors three times,not knowing what path is right for me. Seeing Lincoln, an American icon, in this pose demonstrates even the greatest men have troubles. When I see the statue on a tiresome day, it reminds me to pick up my head and push forward. It should remind all of us of how Lincoln, despite the adversity he faced, pushed onward to achieve great things and how we have the capability of doing the same.Cooke, Dana. “A Different Lincoln.” The Maxwell School of Syracuse University, 17 June 2013, www.maxwell.syr.edu/news.aspx?id=36507226691. Accessed 30th, Jan. 2018.

Haley, Kathleen. “Iconic Lincoln Statue on Campus Gets an Upgrade.” SU News, 18 July 2016, news.syr.edu/2016/07/iconic-lincoln-statue-on-campus-gets-an-upgrade-72988/. Accessed 30,Jan. 2018.

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  1. Kate February 21, 2018

    Something I liked about your entry was how you described the Lincoln statue in the beginning because I had a perfect visual of it. I have never seen the Lincoln statue, but as I read your entry I felt as if I have seen it a million times. I felt like I was a Syracuse student as well, walking past the statue everyday on my way to class. Additionally, another thing I enjoyed about your post was how you were able to connect this statue to your own life. As a high school senior deciding where I want to spend the next four years, I too can relate to the look of contemplation on Lincoln’s face. Your entry reminded me, despite a time of uncertainty in my life, to continue to want to achieve great things and to continue to move forward.

  2. Cindy McLane February 21, 2018

    I found “Our Lincoln” to be a very interesting essay. The description of the statue transformed a piece of cold granite into a person with expressions , emotions and thoughts. As the writer described his location on campus and posed why is he so sad? I thought maybe he wasn’t sad but concerned for all the students who walked by him each day as they questioned their futures, wondering what would happen to them after they graduated and started their new lives. I believe that by asking that question it made me look at the photos and think about what I thought of his facial expression.It also made me want to take the time to visit the statue the next time I am on campus. I also liked reading about the history of the statue,not only about the artist and the facts about the statue itself but about how it came to be at Syracuse University. I thought it was interesting that the statue of Lincoln,who was president when slavery was abolished, was brought to the University during the Civil Rights Movement. I liked that the author revealed his personal thoughts of how the statue makes him feel and helps to push him forward on tough days. This essay reminds us of how art will speak to you if you take the time to listen and how valuable it is to all of us.

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