Abraham Lincoln, 1863
Washington, D.C.
Photograph by Alexander Gardner
Collection of the Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation

Abraham Lincoln, 1860
Springfield, Illinois
Photograph by Alexander Hesler
Collection of the Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation

Lincoln, Life-Size

February 13, 2010 - June 6, 2010

Lincoln, Life-Size from is the very first exhibition devoted primarily to this country’s premiere collection Abraham Lincoln imagery. Photographs of Lincoln, digitally reproduced to life size, hang alongside original 19th-century images and artifacts that tell the story of his tumultuous presidency.

The exhibition chronicles the toll of war etched into the face of our 16th president. Life-size inages circle the Museum’s Arcade Gallery. Beneath this facial timeline of his presidency is a selection of photographs of people who touched his life and events that nearly wore him out.

The show explores the time from his arrival in Washington through his assassination. The war unfolds, his son dies, and he struggles with generals and mounting death tolls. Lincoln is revealed grappling with emancipation, being pulled in all directions by his constituents, drafting words that would become sacred, serving as husband and father, and ultimately holding the country together.

Highlights of the exhibition include Leonard Volk’s bronze life mask of Lincoln’s head and hands, glass negatives by Mathew Brady, original albumen war prints by Alexander Gardner and Timothy O’Sullivan, carte-de-visites of Lincoln, his family, his cabinet, his generals. Viewers can study official government war maps, view a Thomas Nast drawing depicting the slavery issue, and walk around an early “triptych” photograph that portrays Lincoln, Grant, or Sherman depending on where the viewer stands. An oversize “imperial” print shows Lincoln just days before delivering his Gettysburg address. In another imperial print a lab technician’s thumb print obliterates Lincoln at his second inaugural, but what is visible is a spectator in the crowd who appears to be John Wilkes Booth. Another photograph of Booth has these words written on the back side: “Recognize him and kill him.”

This exhibition is organized by guest curator Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr., Assistant Director, The Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation, and Bruce Museum Director of Education Robin Garr. Guest curator. Kunhardt is a great-great-grandson of this country’s premiere Lincoln collector, Frederick Hill Meserve. Meserve’s passion for Lincoln was ignited in the 1880s when his father, who had served in the Civil War, asked him to hunt for photographs to illustrate his handwritten war diary. Five generations of the family have preserved this historical record over the past century.

““We have presented the work so that viewers can appreciate the toll the war took on Lincoln,” Kunhardt explains, “and why by 1865 he looked like an old man. In fact, he was just 56 years old when he was assassinated.”

His recent book, Lincoln, Life-Size, which he co-authored with family members Phillip B. Kunhardt III and Peter W. Kunhardt, is available in the Bruce Museum Store.