A long lost Lincoln mask rescued from obscurity by two art collectors
Almost two decades ago, art collector John Short discovered an obscure terra cotta casting of Abraham Lincoln by artist Robert Gage. Through diligent research and dedication to the ideals expressed in the image of Lincoln, Short and fellow art collector John Hamm, hope to bring the Lincoln mask back into the mainstream.
The two men released a new bronze face of Abraham Lincoln, created from the original by renowned sculptor and Academy Award winner Robert Merrell Gage, earlier this year. Spurred by their dedication to preserving art and the history that shaped it, the two North Carolina art enthusiasts also founded the North Carolina Fine Art Gallery to further promote these values.
The bronze Lincoln mask was cast from a terracotta mask created decades ago by renowned sculptor Robert Merrell Gage.
The artist and the academy
Gage was an incredible talent. He worked as an art instructor at Washburn College, assisted the sculptor of the visages that would become Mount Rushmore, and was commissioned for a statue of Abraham Lincoln that sits today on the grounds of the capitol building in Topeka, KS—Gage’s home state. Gage starred in a documentary film, where he sculpted the face of Lincoln while talking about his life. The masterful short film won the Academy Award for documentary short subject film in 1956.
Despite these successes, when Gage passed away in the 1980s, he was relatively unknown and his Lincoln mask fell into uncertainty and obscurity. John Short and his friend and business partner, John Clell Hamm, hope to change that.
The terra cotta Lincoln mask was purchased by Short at an art auction in the early 90s. He was struck by how perfectly it captured Lincoln’s asymmetrical face—the sharp lines of the politician and lawyer seeking after justice on the left side, and the softer features of a humanitarian intimately familiar with loss on the right. Short knew the mask was created to be a bronze, but could tell from its condition that it had never yet been cast.
Short kept the terra cotta mask in his private collection, safely in his bedroom where it could inspire him each day, as he waited for the right opportunity to create the bronze it was intended for.
More than 25 years later, Short has partnered with Hamm—a fellow art enthusiast and friend—as well as a North Carolina-based bronze foundry, to finally cast the Lincoln mask.
In the process, the two men discovered the documentary film, and felt the profound significance of its message in today’s divided world. They knew they needed to share it.
Out of this desire, the North Carolina Gallery of Fine Art was birthed. At the unveiling of the Face of Lincoln, the sculpture was displayed on an elegant white Pedestal Source pedestal with a rotating turntable, so viewers could take in both sides of Lincoln’s face regardless of their vantage point—a crucial feature for a sculpture with such distinctive angles. White was chosen to complement the interior of the display room.
To learn more about Gage, The Face of Lincoln or purchase one of the limited edition sculptures, visit ncgfa.com.