COLLECTION: Decorative Sculpture

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Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)

Origin: America, Illinois
Figure without base: 71 1/4 x 19 x 11in. (181 x 48.3 x 27.9cm) Figure with base: 82 x 22 x 22in. (208.3 x 55.9 x 55.9cm) Base alone: 9 3/4 x 22 x 22in.
Painted wood with plaster or gesso, leather, buttons, and nails
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1962.701.2
A freestanding, life-size figure of a tall, gaunt, bearded, black-haired man. He wears black pants; a black coat; black, knee-height boots; a black vest; a bow tie; and a white shirt. The buttons on his coat, shirt, and vest are real buttons, nailed onto figure and painted. His hands are large and crudely carved. His face is thin, brow furrowed and mouth turned down. His proper left hand touches the lapel of his coat. The core of the figure is wood that has been covered and built up with plaster.
Label:William Norris's granddaughter claimed that the artist tried to carve this figure to the actual dimensions of Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) and, indeed, the sculpted figure's long legs, gaunt frame, sunken cheeks, and near-six-foot height suggest that Norris conscientiously strove for a good resemblance [note 1].
Yet the carving captures the spirit of the flesh-and-blood Lincoln as, perhaps, no naturalistic representation could. By distorting and exaggerating various features, Norris created a figure that was more "real" than lifelike.
Norris's reasons for choosing to portray Lincoln are unknown, but surely the pair's common home state provided a basic bond. This is the only human figure Norris is known to have created, and the Folk Art Center is fortunate to have a copy of a photograph showing carver and statue side by side [note 2].

Provenance:Unidentified dealer, Mason City, Ill.; John Bereman, Chicago, Ill.; Mrs. J. Lewis Ransohoff, Cincinnati, Ohio; Richard E. Guggenheim, Cincinnati, Ohio; Joseph Stevens, Canton, Ohio; Mr. and Mrs. Kavin, Canton, Ohio; Peter H. Tillou, Buffalo, NY.