From KS to LA to NC Gallery of Fine Art: Finding the Lost Robert Merrell Gage Face of Lincoln

From KS to LA to NC Gallery of Fine Art: Finding the Lost Robert Merrell Gage Face of Lincoln

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

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