‘The Face of Lincoln’ bronze mask on display in WilmingtonBy Chelsea Donovan| February 12, 2019 at 3:34 PM EST – Updated February 13 at 4:45 AM
WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – As Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, celebrates what would be his 209th birthday Tuesday, a new bronze face mask created by a renowned sculpture has been unveiled in the Port City.
The mask on display at the NC Gallery of Fine Art, was sculpted in 1956 by Robert Merrell Gage. The sculpture remained in California as a part of the artist’s private collection in its original un-cast state. Then, art conservator and collector John Short spotted it in the 1990s.
“In 1993 I was at an auction and this particular terracotta, with this very poignant face of Lincoln came up, and of course it spoke to me in my heart because I had developed an affinity for Lincoln’s sadness and sorrows that he went through when he had to hold our union together,” Short explained.
Short kept the mask in his private collection until joining forces with business partner John Clell Hamm, where they decided to cast the mask in bronze.
“This is unlike any other statues of Lincoln out there,” Short said. “They are more presidential in the sense where he is looking straight forward and he has a very serious look.”
“It is a significant statement for the people of America, the sculpture shares an American story,” Hamm said.
Gage is renowned for his sculptures of the President. In addition to his seated Lincoln sculpture, which sits on the grounds of the Kansas State Capitol, he also has sculptures in Los Angeles and around the United States.
A film entitled The Face of Lincoln featured Gage as he modeled Lincoln’s bust while narrating the story of the president’s life. The film won an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film in 1956. I
NCGFA plans to cast up to 1,865 of the sculptures for museums, collectors, historians and Lincoln enthusiasts. The price for the bronze mask is $8,500.
The sculpture is currently on display in the office of John Clell Hamm in Wilmington, NC also the headquarters of the NCGFA.
Wilmington resident and Lincoln enthusiast Clell Hamm has partnered with a Chapel Hill art collector to offer 1,865 bronze sculptures, each entitled The Face of Lincoln, originally created by mid-20th century sculptor Robert Merrell Gage.By Mark Darrough -February 12, 2019
WILMINGTON — How local hearing aid specialist Clell Hamm came upon an original terra-cotta face mask of Abraham Lincoln, created in 1956 by renowned sculptor and lifelong Lincoln expert Robert Merrell Gage, is a story that starts at an auction in California more than 25 years ago.
In 1992 Hamm’s friend John Short, a Chapel Hill art collector, discovered the Lincoln mask at an art auction in Pasadena.
“More than 25 years later he comes to me and he says, ‘This mask I have of Abraham Lincoln is spectacular; it’s stunning. It really needs to be cast as a bronze – that’s what the artist meant for it to be. And it’s never been cast. So he said, ‘We should do this.’”
Casting the Face of Lincoln
The two consulted with their attorneys to see if they had the rights to reproduce it. After given the green light, the first set of bronzes were cast in the summer of 2018 by a bronze foundry in Randolph County, which according to Hamm once cast a sculpture of Ronald Regan that now sits in the U.S. Capitol rotunda.
“We spent the last year-and-a-half bringing this to fruition, and this is when we’re finally going public,” Hamm said on Tuesday – what would’ve been Lincoln’s 210th birthday.
Now the two men plan to sell 1,865 sculptures, each numbered and entitled The Face of Lincoln, at a starting price of $8,500.
Hamm said he expects buyers of the work to be Lincoln enthusiasts, students of history, fine art collectors, and galleries and art museums. Next week Hamm and Short will travel to Topeka, Kansas, to unveil a sculpture at the Mulvane Art Museum at Washburn University, where Gage once studied.
“This was made in 1956 and has since only been in private hands. It’s almost like we found a masterpiece,” Hamm said. “That’s what we’re so excited about to share with the world.”
“Encountering this Lincoln mask stirred my emotions the first moment I saw it, and even though I had kept it in my home for 25 years, in 2017 I knew I had to share the inspired work with others,” Short said. “It is a demonstration of Gage’s total familiarity with Abraham Lincoln’s likeness and his very special life. Gage saw Lincoln as a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief. That he created this terra-cotta with its poignant expression indicates his credo that art should speak to the heart of the viewer.”
The life of Robert Merrell Gage
Gage was born in Topeka in 1892. As a young man he was classically trained in sculpture work at the Beaux-Arts Institute in New York City, and later under the tutelage of Robert Henri, the father of the Ashcan School art movement.
He then apprenticed with Gutzon Borglum, who later created Mount Rushmore. Hamm said certain evidence suggests that Gage was involved in designing the models for Lincoln on the famous monument.
Gage’s first commissioned work was The Seated Abraham Lincoln in 1915, which Hamm said still sits at the Kansas State Capitol. In the early 1920s, he moved to Los Angeles where he became a professor of art sculpture at the University of Southern California.
In L.A. he was commissioned for the Electric Fountain in Beverly Hills, the decorative sculpture on the Edison Building, the facade on the L.A. Times building, and the head of Abraham Lincoln on Grand Avenue, according to Hamm.
But it was a movie called “The Face of Lincoln,” which showed Gage modeling a bust of Lincoln as he narrates Lincoln’s life, that particularly enthralled Hamm. The movie won an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film in 1956 — the same year that the terra-cotta was made, now owned by Hamm and Short.
“When you see the movie, you understand why Gage has such mastery of Lincoln’s face because he studied the life mask that Chicago sculptor Leonard Volk did in 1860,” Hamm said.
According to Hamm, Volk’s mask is one of only two masks plastered onto Lincoln himself, and now sits in the Smithsonian.
“What Gage did as an artist — he formed it from memory to scale,” Hamm said, capturing the “somber weight that he carried” in his lifetime. “Gage referred to Lincoln as a man of sorrow.”
How to view it, buy it
Hamm said it was this piece of art that led him and Short to form the N.C. Gallery of Fine Art, which for now is only an online gallery where you can view and buy The Face of Lincoln.
Those interested can go to Hamm’s office at the Hamm Hearing Aid Center (1608 Wellington Avenue), where a bronze sculpture sits in the lobby. Or you can view the virtual gallery and make orders at ncgfa.com.
Each sculpture is custom-made and hand-fired by a bronze artisan at Carolina Bronze Sculpture about 20 miles south of Greensboro. Hamm said to expect 60 to 90 days for delivery.
“Each will be slightly different and unique because of the virtue of each being custom made. But we’ve decided on a traditional medium-brown with some dark shading to emphasize the features.”
He said to pay attention to Lincoln’s asymmetrical face: the right side his “humanitarian side” and the left his “legal side”.
From KS to LA to NC Gallery of Fine Art: Finding the Lost Robert Merrell Gage Face of Lincoln
The inspired circuitous journey of a new bronze sculpture
Wilmington, NC – February 7, 2019 – A new bronze face mask of Abraham Lincoln, originally created as a terra-cotta by renowned American artist Robert Merrell Gage, has been unveiled by the North Carolina Gallery of Fine Art (NCGFA), which plans to cast up to 1,865 for museums, art collectors, historians and Lincoln enthusiasts.
Getting the mask to North Carolina was a winding road. Gage was born and studied in Kansas, where his first Lincoln sculpture remains. The terra-cotta face mask was sculpted in 1956 while Gage was a professor at the University of Southern California. It remained in California as a part of the artist’s private collection in its original un-cast state. Twelve years after Gage’s death, the mask was discovered by art conservator and collector John Rutledge Short, Jr., who kept it privately in his personal collection. In 2017, he joined with business partner John Clell Hamm to cast the mask in bronze and form the North Carolina Gallery of Fine Art.
“Encountering this Lincoln mask stirred my emotions the first moment I saw it, and even though I had kept it in my home for 25 years, in 2017 I knew I had to share the inspired work with others,” said Short. “It is a demonstration of Gage’s total familiarity with Abraham Lincoln’s likeness and his very special life. Gage saw Lincoln as a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief. That he created this terra-cotta with its poignant expression indicates his credo that art should speak to the heart of the viewer.”
Mr. Gage was renowned for his sculptures of Lincoln, capturing the physical impact the President’s career had on his appearance over time. In addition to his seated Lincoln, which sits on the grounds of the Kansas State Capitol, sculptures rest in Los Angeles and other locales. Later in his career, as a professor of sculpture at the University of Southern California, a short film entitled The Face of Lincoln featured the artist as he modeled Lincoln’s bust while narrating the story of the president’s life. The film won an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film in 1956. In another twist of fate, the terra cotta and bronze are dated 1956 and the original film now resides in Raleigh, North Carolina.
The first set of bronzes were cast in the summer of 2018. “We were transfixed as we watched the haunting, stirring face seem to come alive,” said John Clell Hamm, CEO of NCGFA. “It was as though Lincoln himself was there. Every day, I am compelled to look into the face of Lincoln, and I am always inspired by it.”
The sculpture is currently on display in the office of John Clell Hamm in Wilmington, NC. Future unveilings and tour dates are forthcoming across the US; for information contact [email protected].
Founded in 2017 by John Clell Hamm and John Rutledge Short, the North Carolina Gallery of Fine Art (NCGFA) is in Wilmington, NC. The Gallery reflects Mr. Short’s career of 47 years, of collecting and conserving art for numerous clients including the University of North Carolina and Duke University, The National Endowment for the Arts, The William Rand Kenan Trust, Liggett Group, Inc., The State of North Carolina, The 21 Club of New York City, Mr. Frank Kenan, Miss Beverly Sills, Mrs. Nelson Rockefeller, Governor Luther Hodges, Governor Terry Sanford, Mrs. Mary Biddle Duke Semans, Mrs. Betty Dan Spencer, Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson and The John Motley Morehead Foundation. For more information on NCGFA or the Face of Lincoln, visit www.ncgfa.org.