Centre College welcomed back students and a permanent guest of honor in the form of a towering new statue of Abraham Lincoln, which was unveiled following opening convocation Sunday.
The 12-foot-tall bronze sculpture by renowned Louisville artist Ed Hamilton faces the entrance to Centre’s library in Crounse Hall. It depicts a young Lincoln reading William Blackstone’s “Commentaries on the Laws of England,” a book recommended by Centre graduate John Todd Stuart, who was Mary Todd Lincoln’s cousin.
The base of the statue includes several quotations from Lincoln, including one prefered by Centre President John Roush, who has taught about Lincoln in his classes on leadership: “I will study and be ready; then maybe the chance will come.”
“Abraham Lincoln was a son of Kentucky, and his connection to Centre through John Todd Stuart is authentic,” Roush said Friday as the statue was delivered by truck from the Maryland foundry where it was struck. “Most importantly, Abraham Lincoln was a phenomenally important leader for our country.”
The connection to Centre is secondhand but one that apparently had a profound impact on Lincoln’s education. Lincoln was famously self-taught as a lawyer, but Stuart has been credited with advising Lincoln, his future partner in a Springfield, Ill., firm, on his eventual career path.
Stuart and Lincoln, both budding Illinois politicians, served together in Illinois militia in the Black Hawk War. While they served in the Illinois Legislature together in the 1830s, Stuart loaned his friend a clutch of books Lincoln fashioned into a sort of personal curriculum. Lincoln revealed his reading list to friend John Brockman in a letter read Sunday by Centre student Chelsea Faist:
“The mode (of studying law) is very simple, though laborious, and tedious. It is only to get the books, and read and study them carefully. Begin with Blackstone’s Commentaries, and after reading it carefully through, say twice, take up Chitty’s Pleading, Greenleaf’s Evidence, & Story’s Equity Etc. in succession. Work, work, work, is the main thing.”
Richard Trollinger, Centre vice president for college relations, one of the driving forces behind the effort to recognize Lincoln’s Centre connection, was part of a handful of faculty and staff on hand Friday to see the 2,500-pound sculpture arrive.
Trollinger said planning began two years ago, so it was actually a happy coincidence it was delivered ahead of the start of school and the Oct. 11 vice-presidential debate.
The work of art was commissioned by an anonymous donor, and Trollinger declined to divulge the price tag. Thirteen bronze segments were cast and then re-assembled at New Arts Foundry in Baltimore.
It isn’t the first time Hamilton has memorialized Lincoln. The artist, also at Centre to greet the statue Friday, sculpted the Abraham Lincoln Memorial at Waterfront Park in Louisville.
Hamilton is perhaps best known nationally for “The Spirit of Freedom,” the African-American Civil War memorial in Washington, D.C.
Among his other well-known public works are the Louisville memorial to honor York, the slave of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark; the Amistad memorial in Connecticut; the Joe Louis Memorial in Detroit and the Booker T. Washington memorial in Hampton, Va. Hamilton, who completed the sculpture in about 18 months, relished the chance to work with a young version of Lincoln less often seen.
“Even at an early age, he had such character in his face,” Hamilton said. “That’s what I like about it. You see him before the beard. So much character comes from every feature.”
Harold Holzer, widely regarded as a leading authority on all things Lincoln, was on hand Sunday to address the convocation.
Holzer, currently the chairman of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation and vice president of external affairs for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, has authored some 500 articles and reviews, 50 book chapters and 42 books on Lincoln, several of which have received theatrical treatments by well-known actors on stage and screen.
Prior to the unveiling, Holzer’s talk dealt with images of Lincoln related to the emancipation of slaves and the actual Emancipation Proclamation, a document he believed would be his greatest legacy.
Holzer showed the convocation crowd depictions of Lincoln, from posed portraits at the desk where the document was signed — in what is now known as the Lincoln Bedroom at the White House — to modern art interpretations.
Holzer said Lincoln was a person “who was very modest and made fun of his appearance” as a kind of defense mechanism. “But he was amazingly willing to have his image in circulation.”
Ultimately, Holzer said Lincoln wanted to be remembered as a great man.