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In his footsteps
Sculpture unveiled at Old Capitol

It's Oct. 4, 1854, and Abraham Lincoln is walking toward the Old State Capitol to deliver a speech,

Lincoln's wife, Mary, is straightening the lapel on his coat. Their 4-year-old son, Willie, with a slight, sweet smile, waves good-bye to his older brother, Robert, who is leaving for school.

The four Lincolns were sculpted by internationally recognized artist Larry Anderson, of Bonney Lake, Wash., and the resulting four bronze statues comprise a new exhibit called "Springfield's Lincoln" on the southeast side of the Old State Capitol Plaza. Anderson's work was unveiled Saturday in a ceremony on the plaza.

Anderson's work helps demonstrate the Lincolns' Springfield ties for local residents as well as the thousands of people who visit here each year, said Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Tim Farley.

The sculpture is described as interactive, in that the public may touch the statues and pose by them for photos.

"We are truly on the threshold of a new era in Springfield," said Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin, referring to the sculptures, additional Lincoln exhibits planned for downtown Springfield and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

Of "Springfield's Lincoln," Davlin said, "Visitors and residents won't have to imagine what it was like when Lincoln walked downtown. They will now be able to capture the very feeling that townsfolk in the 19th century experienced when they traversed the same pathways."

Anderson said he tried to represent the Lincolns' day-to-day activities in the years before he ran for U.S. president.

"My effort is to reflect a sense of optimism, sort of a can-do attitude, rather than the looking down, reflective, carrying-the-weight-of-the-world (image of Lincoln) that was the effect of the (Civil) War," Anderson told The State Journal-Register last summer.

Lincoln, Anderson noted Saturday, "couldn't have gone from a log cabin to the White House without the polishing effects of a career in Springfield. There he met Mary, became a father, a successful lawyer, then politically active."

Anderson said he read books and studied photographs in order to make the sculptures as accurate and lifelike as possible. The process included sculpting life-sized clay models that became the foundations for the bronze statues.

Various people, including his wife who is the same 5'2" height as Mary Todd Lincoln, were his models.

Known for his attention to detail, Anderson's details for the Lincoln project include laugh lines around Abraham Lincoln's eyes, flowers on Mary's bonnet and a pearl necklace around her neck, Robert's back pack, and buttons on Robert and Willie's clothes.

"Look at the notes (for Abraham Lincoln's speech) inside Lincoln's hatband," said one visitor, pointing to the statue of Lincoln and notes that Anderson tried to get as close to Lincoln's handwriting as possible.

Julia Noonan of Springfield said she made a special trip downtown to attend Saturday's event.

"I just think this is so exciting. So many people come here (to the plaza) for lunch, to visit. This is very important for Springfield," Noonan said.

Anderson, a longtime fan of Lincoln, said he found personal joy in doing "Springfield's Lincoln."

"I have held Lincoln in the highest esteem my entire life," he said. "It is humbling to know that some of the finest sculptors in the world have done Lincoln. I hope my effort here will contribute to the existing genre in a positive way."

"The $210,000 sculpture of the Lincoln family will be the highlight of what is planned as a series of more than 30 outdoor exhibits that are part of a program called "Here I Have Lived." The program is designed to explain Lincoln's life during his nearly 25 years in Springfield, according to Nicky Stratton of the Looking for Lincoln Heritage program.

The $769,000 program is being paid for by the city, largely through a state grant.

The other exhibits will be on display boards on steel posts in the vicinity of the Old State Capitol. They'll provide information about sites important to Lincoln's life in Springfield, including his law office and the site of a barbershop where he spent time with friends.

Debra Landis can be reached at 483-4352

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