Alumni, current students and friends of Centre College are no strangers to the story of Abraham Lincoln and one of the College’s most famous alumni, John Todd Stuart, Class of 1826.
Here’s a brief version (taken from an autobiographical sketch by Lincoln) for those who don’t know the story: When he was 23, Lincoln decided that perhaps the best career for him was one as a blacksmith. After he announced this to Stuart (a friend he had made when they served together in the Black Hawk War), Stuart advised Lincoln to study for the bar instead. When Lincoln protested that he had no books to study, Stuart loaned his friend his law books, and Lincoln delved into the law (“took [the books] home…and went at it in good earnest,” as Lincoln wrote). Lincoln became Stuart’s law partner, and the rest, as they say, is history
Soon, Centre will highlight its relationship to Lincoln in an exceptionally artful way: with a larger-than-life bronze statue of the famous president. An anonymous donor is making the project—one that Centre President John Roush has long hoped for—possible.
“An anonymous donor had heard John say on several occasions that he hoped one day to see more public art on the Centre campus and that he was especially eager to see a statue of Abraham Lincoln here,” says Richard Trollinger, vice president for college relations.
“John Roush is a student of leadership,” he continues. “As such, he’s long been an admirer of Lincoln as a leader—and, arguably, the nation’s greatest president. Since coming to Centre and to Kentucky, John has been surprised that Kentucky hasn’t done more to embrace its greatest son, who’s more often associated with Illinois than he is with the state of his birth. John Roush’s oft-repeated comment about wanting to see a statue of Lincoln at Centre became a seed that over time germinated and took root in the mind of the anonymous donor.”
And who better to create the piece of art that will honor Lincoln’s relationship to Kentucky than a famed Louisvillian?
Ed Hamilton, who was born in Cincinnati and has been a Louisville resident for many years, will be the sculptor of the Lincoln statue, which will be mounted on a granite base in front of Crounse Hall, Centre’s main academic building.
A 1969 graduate of the Louisville School of Art, Hamilton’s reputation blossomed after he completed a series of sculptures that include the Spirit of Freedom in Washington, D.C., the Booker T. Washington Memorial in Hamilton, Va., the Joe Louis Memorial in Detroit and York (the slave who accompanied Lewis and Clark in their North American expedition) in Louisville.
The list of honors and awards Hamilton has received is long. In 1996, he received the Governor’s Artist Award in the Arts. Three years later, he was chosen as a “Distinguished Achiever” of the year. In 2001, Hamilton was inducted in the Gallery of Great Black Kentuckians, sponsored by the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights. Hamilton received three prestigious awards in 2005: the Arthur M. Walters Champion of Diversity Award, the Urban League Diversity Award and the Best of Louisville magazine’s 2005 Reader’s Choice Award for Visual Artist.
This will not be the first Lincoln statue created by Hamilton. Recently, the artist created a large bronze statue of Lincoln for Louisville’s Abraham Lincoln Memorial at Waterfront Park, which was dedicated in June 2009. To complement the statue, Hamilton also created four bronze bas reliefs, each about eight feet wide and six feet tall.
Talking to Louisville’s Courier-Journal about the project in 2008, Hamilton said that it was an honor to be able to create a statue of the man he called “the Great Emancipator.”
Trollinger says that after he and Roush learned from the donor that he had no specific preference with regard to the sculptor, they contacted David and Marlene Grissom, asking them to introduce them to Ed Hamilton, “whose reputation we knew and who we thought would be the ideal artist to create Lincoln for Centre,” Trollinger says.
He continues: “We also knew from past conversations with the Grissoms that Marlene, who’s actively engaged with Waterfront Park in Louisville and a member of its governing board, had been a key player in working with Ed Hamilton to create the Lincoln Memorial at Waterfront Park, which was dedicated during the Lincoln Bicentennial. The Grissoms arranged an introduction in August and helped us interpret Centre’s interest in a Lincoln statue to Ed.”
Although at this point there is no official timeline for the statue’s completion, Hamilton has said that creating a statue is typically an 18- to 24-month process.