by Caroline Anderegg '15
Following the Opening Convocation on Sunday, August 26, 2012, students, faculty, and staff gathered in front of the library to celebrate the unveiling of the newest member of the Centre community. Not without some technical difficulties in removing the second-hand army parachute draped over the sculpture till the very last moment, everyone applauded and cheered when all twelve feet of our nation's sixteenth president was revealed. Eyes buried in a book, the bronze Abraham Lincoln towered over the crowd.
"There is a little college down in Kentucky which in sixty years has graduated more men who have acquired prominence and fame than has Princeton in her 150 years." —President Woodrow Wilson, 1903
Decades after Lincoln's life and more than a century before his legacy has been enshrined on campus, the prominence and influence of Centre alumni was recognized by the president himself. Among these historical alumni are Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan, Vice President John C. Breckenridge, Vice President Adlai Stevenson, and Supreme Court Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson, to name a few. Yet nowhere on the list is President Lincoln. No, Honest Abe did not attend Centre—his connection to the college is more removed. As the story goes, John Todd Stuart, Centre Class of 1826, developed a relationship with Lincoln through their mutual service in the Black Hawk War. When Lincoln told him of his plans to become a blacksmith, Stuart protested and instead encouraged Lincoln to pursue a legal career. In order to help him study for the bar exam, Stuart lent Lincoln books from the College library. It is this narrative, as well as Stuart and Lincoln's eventual law partnership, that forges the historical connection between Centre and the heroic president.
In the weeks leading up to the unveiling and dedication, and in the following weeks and months, there was an outpour of both positive and negative feedback about the statue. Chief among the criticisms was the "tenuous connection" the College was making to the famous president. Such criticism came in many forms, from alumni, students, and community members alike.
The statue was commissioned by an affluent Centre alum who has remained anonymous upon request.
All research and analyses were done by Caroline Anderegg, Centre Class of 2015, for Dr. James Bloom's Fall 2013 ARH384 course, "Art and Authority: The Power of Images." The course was designed to challenge students to consider expressions of power implicit in the creation and consumption of art throughout history. Students learned about both conventional articulations of authority—through institutional agency, patronage, and propaganda—as well as a diverse range of topics, such as museum collections and performance art, as expressions of power. Informed by their critical exploration of various art historical strategies of authority, students were able to complete two semester-long projects addressing these ideas. One of the projects was a student-curated exhibition featuring some of the most recent gifts to the Norton Center for the Arts, entitled "Ars Lux Mentis: Explorations of Light". The second was a project that allowed students to choose a building or monument on campus and perform a critical assessment of the ways in which the subject expresses power or authority. In addition to the Abraham Lincoln statue, the students chose the following locations: the Norton Center for the Arts, Cooper-Ganfield House, Jones Visual Arts Center, Old Centre, the Old Centre Swing, Old Carnegie Library, Stuart Hall, and the sinking spring. Information about all projects is accessible online via QR codes found at each of the sites on campus. Thank you for letting us share our class with you!