Spotlight Artifact: Life Mask and Hands

abedeathmask

During Abraham Lincoln’s visit to Chicago in March 1860, American sculptor Leonard Volk took a life mask of the future President. It took about an hour to set the plaster on his face with straws in his nostrils, while Lincoln understandably disliked the process, he was pleased with the outcome. In May 1860, the sculptor took castings of Lincoln’s hands in Springfield, IL. Volk decided that he would like the President to hold something when he took the cast of his hands, so Lincoln obliged him by going out to the wood shed, sawing off a broom handle, and smoothing down the edges to hold in his hand.

Volk used the mask and hand castings to sculpt busts and full-length statues of Lincoln. It may be that the Volk mask of Lincoln is the most reliable document of Lincoln’s face. Unlike photographs, it preserved the actual form. In the years since the original mask was made, other sculptors have turned to it for their inspiration. Copies, such as the one in our collection, have been cast and sold commercially several times throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Rebecca Justinger
Registrar

*This article was featured in the Spring 2015 issue of  “The Album”

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