Department of Tourism
Louisville Preserves Ties to Lincoln with New Sculpture
Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of monthly news releases on preparations leading up to the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial in Kentucky.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – In a rough but revitalizing neighborhood just east of downtown Louisville, sculptor Ed Hamilton is toiling over what he hopes will become one of his most inspiring public statues. On the walls of his cluttered studio hang blown-up photographs of Abraham Lincoln; on tables sit rare books filled with photos of the 16th president and pictures of more than 200 statues of the Great Emancipator.
Hamilton has been commissioned to create a large bronze figure of Lincoln that will be the focus of a new section of Louisville’s Waterfront Park. The Louisville Waterfront Development Corp., which secured $2 million in state funds for the project, wants the work completed by Feb. 12, 2009, the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth.
So far Hamilton has crafted a clay scale model of the Lincoln he has conceived: seated hatless on a rough stone as if he had stopped during a riverside stroll to sit and read, a book in one hand, his other hand extended as if to invite a passerby to pause and converse. The commission recently approved the model with a request that Lincoln’s face look a bit younger.
Hamilton, an African American who grew up in Louisville to become one of the country’s leading sculptors of outdoor statues, has crafted memorials to educator Booker T. Washington for Virginia’s Hampton University; boxer Joe Louis for Detroit’s Cobo Conference Center; black Civil War soldiers for the “Spirit of Freedom “ monument in Washington, D.C.; Africans in bondage for the “Amistad Memorial” in New Haven, Conn.; and the slave known as York, who was a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, which occupies a prominent spot on Louisville’s Belvedere.
Hamilton’s assignment also calls for four bas-relief sculptures with text on Lincoln and Civil War-related Kentucky themes that will be positioned along a walkway leading from the Ohio River waterfront to the main Lincoln statue at the center of a new amphitheater near River Road.
“As a young kid I used to go see the statue of Lincoln outside the Main Library,” Hamilton recalls of the 13-foot formal bronze figure that has stood on the grounds of the Louisville Free Public Library at 4th and York Streets since 1922. “He was so big and tall, and had big hands, big feet. I would rub his feet.”
As inspiration for his work, Hamilton has also visited Louisville’s Speed Art Museum, where currently on display in the Kentucky room are three images of Lincoln: an 1860 bronze “life mask” made of Lincoln’s face from a plaster cast; an 1865 marble bust, and an oil painting based on an 1865 portrait of the soon-to-be-assassinated president.
It’s not coincidental that the Speed Museum contains Lincoln art and artifacts. Lincoln was a close friend of Joshua Speed, whom he met in Springfield, Ill. when Lincoln was a newly arrived legislator and lawyer and Speed an established merchant in the Illinois capital. The two men, both unmarried at the time, shared living accommodations for several years.
Joshua Speed was the son of John and Lucy Speed, prominent Kentuckians who had built the historic Farmington plantation house near Louisville in 1816. Lincoln, who was born near Hodgenville, Ky. in 1809 and lived there until his family moved to Indiana in 1816, maintained ties to Kentucky throughout his life. He visited Joshua Speed and his family at Farmington for three weeks in 1841. There he witnessed slaves harvesting and processing hemp on the 550 acre plantation. At the time Lincoln visited, more than 60 slaves worked in the fields and maintained the household at Farmington. The historic house is now surrounded by Louisville residential neighborhoods and open to the public for tours.
The Speed Museum was founded in 1925 by Hattie Bishop Speed as a memorial to her husband, J.B. Speed, Joshua Speed’s nephew. The Speed Museum, located on the University of Louisville’s campus, plans to display many of its other Lincoln and Civil War related pieces during the 1809 Bicentennial year, said Lonna Versluys, the museum’s public information manager.
For its part, Farmington will mark the Lincoln Bicentennial with a two-year observance of the important connections between the Speed family and Lincoln. In October 2008, Farmington will feature three weeks of special programming to commemorate Lincoln’s 1841 visit. Events will include a reenactment of Lincoln’s arrival at Farmington and programs on architecture, culture, women’s roles and enslaved African Americans in ante bellum Kentucky.
The Speed Museum and Farmington expect an increase in visitors as the Bicentennial approaches. The Louisville Free Public Library will host a major traveling exhibition of Lincoln artifacts and memorabilia, called “Lincoln Forever Free,” from Dec. 13, 2007 to Feb. 17, 2008. The exhibit, contained in a 75-foot-long series of panels, focuses on Lincoln’s efforts to abolish slavery. The free exhibit, which is being displayed at 63 libraries in 31 states over a four-year period, was compiled by the country’s two leading organizations of Lincoln scholarship, according to Norman Morton, the Louisville library’s director of marketing and community relations.
Contacts: Louisville Free Public Library, Norman Morton, 502-574-1845.
Farmington Historic Home, Andrea Saylor, 502-452-9920.
The Speed Art Museum, Lonna Versluys, 502-634-2700.
Louisville Waterfront Corp., David Karem, 502-574-3768.