LINCOLN MEMORIAL IN WASHINGTON DC VANDALIZED The news stories are easy enough to find. What bothered me aside from the stupid splash of green paint on the memorial’s base was that the sculptor wasn’t even mentioned.
DANIEL CHESTER FRENCH 1850-1931 grew up in Concord, Massachusetts. His neighbors were Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Alcott family, and May Alcott, sister of Louisa May Alcott, encouraged him to become a sculptor.
I first noticed Chester French’s existence about 30 years ago in a picture book about his studio, a very inventive, perfectly splendid studio beyond all studios set in a little garden and he called the place Chesterwood. I immersed myself in Chesterwood history for months, I could not get enough of it.
Most artists will reflect on the crapshit studios in their lives when suffering dominated, the disastrous unsteady shelves from which turps splashed and brushes vanished, darkness prevailed, freezing winters set ice on windows INSIDE, hands froze and noses ran and materials to use were scarce. I wanted til my heart ached a studio like French’s one day and I would call it Sparhawkwood. Or maybe, The Hawks Perch.(Watercolor by Marguerite Bride)
French’s best friend Henry Bacon, an architect who worked on a lot of public sculptures with French including the classically gorgeous surrounds of the Lincoln Memorial, joined in the design and building of the studio. It still exists and is going through a renovation which one hopes will not be horrendous. They built a railroad track of maybe fifty feet or so that would glide platformed statues he worked on from inside to the outside yard so he could continually check on the way light from above hit the figures.
The Seated Lincoln is such a moving figure. I’ve seen it in person, and it is just immense. And so beautifully situated, the President in that chair, that from all angles the vision simply stuns. It’s a great accomplishment. Except for the Lincoln and a few other pieces I’ve never been enraptured with French’s work which is a little too perfect, too smooth, too romantic. But he really nailed Lincoln. It’s full of strong life and rough drama and will move the hardest heart.
The little giggling idiots who vandalized it with green paint at 1 am this morning should be waterboarded in the Reflecting Pool. No damage was apparently done. The parks department got it cleaned up with high power hoses. Lincoln lives. So does the artist.
DANIEL CHESTER FRENCH, AMERICAN SCULPTOR, In his studio in Concord, Massachusetts