By Jasper Collier
In 1932, the town of Wabash, Indiana unveiled their newly completed sculpture of Abraham Lincoln on their courthouse lawn. The piece by sculptor Charles Keck remains one of the most realistic and human models of the sixteenth president. A maquette of Keck’s seated Lincoln has been on display in the Visitor Education Center at the President Lincoln’s Cottage since the site opened in February, but it has recently been moved into the special exhibit gallery. Until December 19th, the piece, which was a gift of Faye F. and Sheldon S. Cohen, will feature prominently in the new exhibit, “A Deep and Subtle Expression: Lincoln in Sculpture.”
Keck was born in New York City in 1875, and is primarily known for his portraits and sculptures of famed Americans including Lewis and Clark, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, and Booker T. Washington. Though he was an accomplished artist by the time he began work on the Lincoln sculpture, he agonized over every detail and produced numerous studies in hopes of capturing the essence of Lincoln’s humanity and compassion. Keck produced a standing and a seated Lincoln, but Alexander New, who had commissioned the piece, preferred the seated version.
Many of the objects on display in “A Deep and Subtle Expression” are from other National Trust Historic Sites, and it is fitting that Keck’s sculpture represents President Lincoln’s Cottage. It is not as heroic or triumphant as the pieces by Daniel Chester French, or as scientific in detail as the life masks or hand sketches, but it is an image of an approachable and understanding individual – exactly who Lincoln was during his summers at the Soldiers’ Home.