Tuesday January 22, 2013

DAVE GRAM

Associated Press

MONTPELIER -- When you’re the subject of a new hit movie and it’s the 150th anniversary of your most famous speech, you probably want to get spruced up a bit.

So a marble bust of Abraham Lincoln that has gazed down a main hallway of the Vermont Statehouse for a century could be getting some work done.

"He’s discolored, he’s dirty and in desperate need of cleaning," Civil War historian Howard Coffin said recently as he gazed at the statue before heading in to a Senate committee room to ask for an appropriation of about $12,000 to get the bust refurbished.

Sitting atop a pillar between two legislative hearing rooms, Vermont’s Lincoln has witnessed a century of the comings and goings of the state’s lawmakers. No wonder he’s a bit grimy.

But underneath the gray sheen, he’s splendid in white marble tailcoat, buttoned vest and cravat.

Coffin, the author of several books about Vermont’s role in the Civil War and its impact on the state, said the bust was one of the best statues of Lincoln anywhere.

It was created by Larkin Goldsmith Mead, a highly regarded sculptor in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Mead grew up in Vermont but spent much of his adult life in Florence, Italy, carving statuary in a neoclassical style.


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He won a competition to be commissioned to create works for the Lincoln Tomb in Springfield, Ill., and Coffin said the Vermont bust was a model for a larger statue in bronze that Mead created for the Illinois site.

When Mead died in 1911, according to Coffin and Vermont state curator David Schutz, the Legislature passed a resolution in his honor and a copy was sent to his widow in Florence. She reciprocated by making a gift to Vermont of the marble Lincoln bust. Its stern gaze has looked down one of two main hallways on the first floor of the mid-19th century building ever since.

When the first floor of the building got a major makeover in 1995, Schutz said, the plan was to move the Lincoln statue to protect it, but it proved too heavy. (He had no estimate of its weight.) Instead, a plywood box was built around it for protection.

The Williamstown Art Conservation Center of Williamstown, Mass., which has refurbished several other Statehouse artifacts, including the large Battle of Cedar Creek painting in the Cedar Creek Room on the building’s second floor, is expected to clean and polish the Lincoln statue.

Coffin got a friendly reception from members of the Senate Institutions Committee, which reviews requests for building projects and other capital improvements. After he wrapped up his presentation, he and committee members swapped stories about their various visits to Civil War historic sites.

This year is the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, and the Stephen Spielberg movie "Lincoln," is widely considered a strong contender for an Academy Award as best picture. That makes it a good time to ask lawmakers to include sprucing up Vermont’s Lincoln in their budget, Coffin said.

"I think I’ve got a fair shot," he said with a smile.