Over the last year, much has been written and said about the 200th anniversary of the birth of one of this country’s greatest leaders — Abraham Lincoln. Many parallels were drawn to the election of Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln. Many books have been written on the life and accomplishments of Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Obama is catching up fast. But little has been written up until now about some recently discovered artistic images of Abraham Lincoln. Since this year is not yet up, I thought I would draw your attention to some remarkable yet over-looked visual documents of this great president.
It is not uncommon for framing services to discover unclaimed artwork in their store rooms. Frequently but rarely, customers will bring work in for framing, and then, after falling upon hard times, death, abduction, or just from chickening out, they fail to return to the shop to retrieve (or pay for) their work. Calls to the customer go unheeded, and the work falls into a dark, forgotten corner of the artistic framing business. So it was that two unusual images were left unclaimed at the Greenleaf Frame Shop just off Central Street in north Evanston, a village just north of Chicago ignominiously known as the birthplace of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. (The Greenleaf Framing service eventually closed and re-opened as the Great Frame Up, offering self-service framing options).
In 1958, Boy Scout Troop 2 offered to clean up the store-room at The Greenleaf to provide service points for Eagle Scout to be, Herbert Zinker. During the process, Herbert, an art student himself at Evanston High School, dog trainer and a member of the ETHS basketball team, discovered several yellowed, paper wrapped packages hidden behind two long unused french cut glass doors. Being the inquisitive type, Herbert opened them to discover two long forgotten framed prints (which he identified as either etchings, lithographs or mono prints). The owner of the shop, a Mrs. Nancy Kellogg Means, waved off the importance of the images, re-wrapped them in fresh paper, and stowed them in a broom closet. They were eventually sold at the ‘Evanston Maxwell St. Days’ sale in the summer of 1962 for five dollars each to a Mary Smith (obviously a pseudonym) of Hartzell St, a registered DAR (Daughter of the American Revolution), who fancied the obliquely patriotic nature of the pictures with Abraham Lincoln in them.
The pictures hung on the walls of Mrs. Smith’s first floor hall, just outside the bathroom until 1998. That year Angela Smith-Rotella, Mrs. Smith’s daughter-in-law and a member of the Kentucky Art League spied the pictures while attending a holiday affair (she had recently re-married to Dickie Smith, the prodigal son of Mary Smith). Knowing they held some value, she offered her mother-in-law 50 dollars each for the pictures. Having grown tired of the pictures, Mary Smith was happy to be rid of the pictures, replacing them with three mass-produced prints of puppies purchased at Pier 19. Ms Rotella-Smith plans to take the prints to Antiques Roadshow when they visit Holly Springs, Mississippi in the spring of 2012. Check listings in your area (PBS).
The first of the two images appear below, and is titled “The Lincoln Chair (Abe Lincoln as Chair)”
When discovered, Lincoln experts were baffled. Fibres of the paper put the date of creation between 1858 and 1932, but it could be as late as 1957. Commentators and analysts have kept mum to this point as to the meaning of the image which portrays the president as a chair. He appears to be pointing or pointing a gun at a glass which appears to hold some liquid and an ice-cube. The ice is compelling as ice was not widely available in the time of Lincoln. The facial expression is also very similar to one portrayed on Lincoln while giving his famous Gettysburg Address – leading unofficial experts to believe that the artist might have been in attendance at the address.
An orb hangs in front of the president – an echo of some very obscure texts that state Lincoln may at one time been advised by extra-terrestrial beings that lived in the garden of the White House. A line that connects outer space can easily be seen attached to the other-worldly orb.
Beneath his feet, a walkway of Egyptian cast stone is easily visible. This would likely be a typical embellishment of the time. Notice the echoes of the parquet floor and the checker board of the chair and table. Leading Arts and Crafts experts claim this places the images squarely in the Arts and Crafts period. Most serious art experts feel the Arts and Crafts experts are crackpots and hop heads, so little truck is placed in this theory.
The second image is below.
This second and far less cryptic image portrays the 9th birthday party of a young Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln, as often is the case, is imagined as a full-grown man, making identification easier for the viewer. Gay and cheery elements of the party are present everywhere:
— A party member, Johnny Depp, is in the foreground, ready to take a drink of punch.
— A member of the party is apparently leaving in the rear.
— Abe appears happy with his new pet dog.
— Other friends are seen near him or on his shoulders.
— He appears to be wearing a shirt with his own image on it.
— An ominous sky does not seem to be casting any pall on the merry-making.
These intriguing images are a welcome addition to the Lincoln Legend. If any viewers wish to add their comments or commentary, we welcome that. These things are pretty objective and subjective, and we welcome your objects and subjects.