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A Copley Newspaper
Serving Central Illinois
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Passing time with Lincoln
Railroad donates calendar paintings

Published Friday, January 27, 2006

Throughout the years, collectors have approached Kim Bauer with framed copies of paintings of Lincoln from calendars printed by the Chicago, Illinois Midland Railroad Co. from the early 1930s to the mid-1950s.

Bauer, curator at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, became interested in where the original paintings might be, of course. He phoned the Springfield-based company, now the Illinois and Midland Railroad. He also called its corporate owners, Genesee & Wyoming, in Greenwich, Conn.

"Every time I called Illinois Midland, people weren't quite sure where the paintings were. When I was referred to Genesee and Wyoming, nobody (there) knew what this was," Bauer said.

Then, shortly before the presidential museum opened in April, he got a call from Illinois and Midland vice president Raquel Swan. She wanted to know whether the library and museum wanted the paintings.

Swan invited Bauer to the company's offices off of North Grand Avenue, just past the railroad tracks at 15th Street.

"The paintings were all over the place, on the walls, hanging," Bauer said.

At 11 a.m. Saturday, Swan and other IMR executives will formally donate all 20 of the railroad's paintings to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. They'll be on display along with other recent acquisitions in a new temporary exhibit, "Mr. Lincoln's Attic," that opens the same day.

Most of the paintings portray storied scenes of Lincoln's life in New Salem. A few depict famous moments in Springfield.

One painting was commissioned for each year's calendar. Of the 20 paintings, 14 are by Fletcher Ransom, who trained at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Academy of Fine Arts in New York City and did work for Colliers magazine. Springfield High School graduate Reynolds Jones painted eight others, and three were by Chicago artist Lane Newberry.

The railroad had five additional Lincoln paintings at one point, but they are missing.

Ransom was the most famous of the three artists, according to Lincoln museum registrar William Snyder, who pointed out Ransom's heavy brush strokes, which paid homage to Van Gogh, and his use of shadows reminiscent of Cezanne's.

"Fletcher's use of perspective also was very accomplished," Snyder said.

In one Fletcher oil painting, "Pioneer Transportation," Lincoln is helping to save a stranded flatboat on the Sangamon River near New Salem. According to the story, Lincoln took charge by drilling a hole through the boat's side to release the water that had poured in. An impressionistic forest in the background shimmers with cool winter pastels.

Bauer wouldn't disclose the combined value of all 20 paintings, but said Ransom's typically sell for $3,000 to $6,000 each. A quick Internet search found one Ransom work that recently sold for $10,000.

Pete Sherman can be contacted at 788-1539 or pete.sherman@sj-r.com.

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