There is a man still living who posed for the huge statue of Abraham Lincoln that stands -- or, more precisely, sits -- in the Lincoln Memorial. Because the statue has been there since President Warren G. Harding dedicated it 64 years ago, in 1922, how can this be?
First, the man was a boy in his teens when he modeled. And all you can see that resulted from his posing are the folds in Lincoln's trousers, as carved into the Georgia white marble and seen above.
My source is the model's niece, who sells real estate in California's Silicon Valley. I encountered Lynn Helms Smith on her job in the community of Mountain View, and when she learned of my Washington job, she was eager to tell me about Prentiss French.
One day, before this country entered World War I, young Prentiss was outside the studio of his uncle, the famed sculptor Daniel Chester French, in Stockbridge, Mass. The sculptor summoned him with, "Prentiss, I need you to pose for me."
What he sought was a natural rendering of the folds in the woolen trousers of someone seated, the right leg thrust farther forward than the left.
Prentiss French's pose was for a sketch and not the actual statue. Daniel French later did several models, including a six-foot one from which the final 19-foot-high marble statue was executed by Piccirrilli Brothers in New York. Daniel French also worked on the final version. He died in 1931, at age 81.
In later years, Prentiss French and his wife Helen helped build up Chesterwood, the sculptor's summer estate at Stockbridge, now owned by the Washington-based National Trust for Historic Preservation. In the Berkshires five miles from the New York state line, it's open for tours daily until Oct. 31. Among displays are preliminary and final models of the Lincoln statue and a model of the fountain in Washington's Dupont Circle.
And Prentiss French? After living several years in San Francisco, he now resides in Los Angeles to be close to a daughter. He's 92, said niece Smith, and still vigorous although a hearing impairment would prevent a telephone interview.