NGA's Emancipator, In Plaster

By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 16, 2009

The National Gallery of Art is joining the Lincoln exhibition bandwagon by showing the heaviest and tallest artifact of them all.

The gallery plans to announce today that it will display the 1,000-pound model of the statue that sits in the Lincoln Memorial. Created by Daniel Chester French in the summer of 1916, this plaster form became the basis of the marble statue, now the iconic backdrop to speeches, concerts, movie scenes and family snapshots.

Starting Feb. 12 and continuing for one year, the gallery will show the six-foot-high model of the statue, and also the original wood model of the Lincoln Memorial by Henry Bacon. The exhibition, called "Designing the Lincoln Memorial: Daniel Chester French and Henry Bacon," will be in the West Building and contain illustrations about the objects, the artists and a history of the memorial over the years.

Receiving the model is a coup for the gallery because the artifact hasn't traveled since 1976 from its storage space in Stockbridge, Mass., where French had a country home called Chesterwood.

The move is a delicate one. "Plaster as a medium is not permanent as is marble. You do have to take special precautions," says Donna Hassler, the director of Chesterwood, now a National Historic Landmark. "Yet the timing is so important -- to be able to share this sculpture with the nation during the Lincoln Bicentennial," which marks the birth of the 16th president.

Chesterwood, the home and studio, is open six months each year and has 13,000 visitors annually. The National Gallery has nearly 5 million visitors a year. The plaster model will be shipped in eight pieces. The wood model of the memorial by Bacon is on loan from the General Services Administration.

Two of the best-known artisans of their time, French and Bacon also designed the Dupont Circle fountain. French used casts of his hand to shape the signature hands of Lincoln. The memorial was dedicated in 1922.

Also, today -- after 18 months of renovation -- six of the 14 American art galleries reopen. Works back on view include "New York" by George Bellows, "Breezing Up (A Fair Wind)" by Winslow Homer and the massive sculpture "Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts Fifty-Fourth Regiment" by Augustus Saint-Gaudens.

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