Lincoln the lawyer
Bronze Statue By Lorado Taft, 1860-1936
One of the most famous Lincoln statues in the United States is located in Urbana, the home of the University of Illinois. The sculpture was created by Lorado Taft, an Illinois native born in Elmwood, Illinois, on April 29, 1860, the year Lincoln was elected president. Taft's father, Don Carlos, studied to be a Congregational minister and then moved his family to Champaign, where he became a professor of Geology at the University of Illinois. Lorado found his vocation as a sculptor when, at the age of fourteen, he helped unpack, repair, and arrange the first sculpture collection at the University of Illinois. He enrolled in the University of Illinois, where he earned his bachelor's degree in 1879 and master's degree in 1880. He then studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris for three years. Soon after returning to the United States, he became an instructor at the Art Institute of Chicago, holding that position from 1886 to 1907. He was also the moving spirit behind the creation of the Eagle's Nest Art Colony at Oregon, Illinois. He persuaded the country's leading artists, writers, actors, poets, musicians, and architects to come to Oregon starting in 1898.
Taft opened his first studio in Chicago upon returning from Paris and went on to win a number of artistic awards at national and international expositions. When the World's Fair was held in Chicago in 1893, he became the superintendent of all sculpture for the Exposition.
While in this position, he made life long friends with other artists from all over the United States and throughout the world. He also lectured at the University of Chicago, wrote two books on American sculpture, trained over one hundred students, and produced an impressive number of notable sculptures. His Lincoln The Lawyer was made possible through a gift to the Urbana Park District from Judge and Mrs. J.O. Cunningham. Judge Cunningham had been a friend of Abraham Lincoln and later of Lorado Taft and his family. Lawyer Lincoln is depicted with his hands resting on the ends of a heavy stone slab. He wears a long coat, a vest, and a bow tie. His right knee is slightly bent, and he gazes to his right. The statue was dedicated on July 3, 1927, at the original location on a triangular plot near the Urbana-Lincoln Hotel. The hotel stood on the site of the old Kerr Tavern, a favorite stopping place for Abraham Lincoln while riding the circuit. The courthouse where he practiced law was close by. However, it was soon discovered that the hotel could not receive clear title to the land, and the statue was moved to its present location in Carle Park, facing the Urbana High School. The dedication address was delivered by Lincoln scholar William E. Barton. Barton noted that Lincoln was the most photographed man of his day and became the subject for sculptors immediately after his death. Barton ranked Taft's Lincoln with the works of such famous sculptors as Leonard Volk, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Andrew O'Connor, Charles Mulligan, and Daniel Chester French. In his address, Barton observed: "This [sculpture] shows Lincoln as Urbana saw him in the days when he stood at the bar of justice in the courthouse. Lincoln stands with his hands upon the railing at his back, in the calm opening moments of his argument. His pose is suggestive of great reserve power and quiet confidence in the justice of his cause. Abraham Lincoln comes to Urbana again, where for years he was not a stranger, where lawyers and tavern keepers knew him. Back he comes to permanently abide in the community. Here where his fame increased and his reputation grew with each visit, he comes again and comes to remain."
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 is derived.
For further reading:
Bullard, F. Lauriston. Lincoln In Marble And Bronze. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1952.
Durman, Donald Charles. He Belongs To The Ages: The Statues Of Abraham Lincoln. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Edwards Brothers, 1951.
Mead, Franklin B. Heroic Statues in Bronze of Abraham Lincoln. Fort Wayne: The Lincoln National Life Foundation, 1932.
Stilson, Jan. Art And Beauty In The Heartland: The Story Of The Eagle's Nest Art Camp At Oregon, Illinois, 1898-1942. Bloomington, Indiana: AuthorHouse, 2006.
Taft, Ada Bartlett. Lorado Taft: Sculptor And Citizen. Greensboro, North Carolina: Mary Taft Smith, 1946.
12 Illinois Heritage
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