A Greater Task
Bronze Statue By John McClarey, 1935-
Story and photo by Carl Volkmann
Springfield, Illinois, the capital city of the Land of Lincoln, has always been considered a mecca for tourists, who come from all over the world to pay homage to America's greatest president. Abraham Lincoln moved from New Salem to Springfield in 1837 and left for Washington, D.C. as president-elect in 1861. In addition to the Lincoln Home, Lincoln Tomb, the Old State Capitol, the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office, and the Lincoln Depot, Springfield officials can now boast that the city has two new world-class institutions: the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum. The Presidential Library opened to the public on October 14, 2004, and the Presidential Museum was dedicated on April 19, 2005.
The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency added an appropriate outdoor venue to the Museum/Library complex in 2006: Union Square Park. Located just across the street from the museum, the 86,000-square-foot park is spacious enough to accommodate a variety of activities. The park and a heroic-sized Lincoln statue were dedicated on August 11, 2006. Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin presided at the dedication, and several local and state officials made remarks.
The statue was created by Decatur sculptor, John McClarey, who specializes in the form and thought of Abraham Lincoln. His recent works
One of his most noteworthy commissions was a sculptured bust of Lincoln for the Russian State Library for Foreign Literature in Moscow. He has also created Lincoln sculptural works for the Presidential Library in Springfield, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. The artist was the 2005 recipient of the Richard Nelson Current Award of Achievement at the Lincoln Forum held in Gettysburg, the first "visual historian" to receive the award. McClarey has a B.A. degree in Sociology from Millikin University and an M.S. degree in U.S. History from Illinois State University.
Interviewed on August 25, 2003, McClarey stated: "I think that A Greater Task relates to our experiences in that all of us make decisions at times that change the direction for our lives and the way that we think about things. So it was with Abraham Lincoln. He is shown in this sculptural presentation ready to make a change, to start a new journey. He is prepared to leave Springfield and Illinois to accept the highest elected office of the American people. The title gets its inspiration from Lincoln's farewell speech in Springfield, where he talked about the greatness of his task, one greater than faced by George Washington. Lincoln has made his turn toward the East where the center of power resides for our democracy. He stands stalwart with firm jaw and compassionate eyes. His coat is buttoned tightly against the impending storms raging across the land over slavery and secession. His right hand firmly grips the lapel of his coat to suggest his own commitment to American law and principle in dealing with the crises of the Union. His left hand is open to show a willingness to appeal to his countrymen for their support in what he thought was right. The statuary stands not only as a testament to one man's courageous journey. It is about a journey that we must make together to keep our country strong and committed to the ideals that founded the nation."
In his dedicatory remarks on August 11, McClarey stated: "On a cold and rainy day in Springfield on February 11, 1861, Lincoln said goodbye to friends and turned his face toward Washington, D.C. An awesome task lay ahead, as well as the judgment of God and history. Lincoln's task would be to save the nation and to promise a 'new birth of freedom' for all Americans. He would guide the nation through the 'fiery trial' of civil war which would test the American character and commitment to the principles that founded the nation. Near the end, he would lay out a road map for peace and reconciliation that would 'bind up the nation's wounds' and restore the 'mystic chords' of union so badly broken during that war. Notice in the sculpture that his body language suggests two qualities of leadership that would mark his administration - toughness and compassion. Throughout his administration, he would demonstrate his willingness and capacity for both, and in doing so would transform the nation as well as himself. As always, he hoped that the 'better angels of our nature' would guide us. That hope, that 'greater task' must be our task as well.
Carl Volkmann of Springfield is the former director of the Lincoln (public) Library in Springfield. Now retired, he is writing a history of Lincoln-inspired sculpture in the state, from which this article, the first of several to be featured in Illinois Heritage, is derived.
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