February 10, 2006

SIUC loans Lincoln portrait to Vandalia Statehouse

by Tom Woolf

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Abraham Lincoln is about to return to his legislative roots.

Figuratively speaking, of course.

With the massive renovation and expansion project of Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Morris Library under way, officials initially planned to keep a very valuable portrait of Lincoln in storage. Instead, the striking image, completed in 1865 by Alban Jasper Conant, will grace the Vandalia Statehouse, where Lincoln served in his first statewide office as a legislator in the 1830s.

After a brief ceremony at 2 p.m. on Feb. 16 at the state’s second capitol, located at 315 W. Gallatin, the portrait will remain on display for the next two years.

“Rather than crating it away in storage, we thought it appropriate to share the portrait with the people of Illinois in an historic and appropriate venue,” library affairs Dean David H. Carlson said.

In 1860 a prominent St. Louis businessman, William McPherson, commissioned Conant to paint the Republican presidential nominee, Abraham Lincoln. From these early sittings, Conant painted a smiling Lincoln, impressed by his subject’s animated nature while telling stories. He completed the portrait, which closely resembles a contemporary photograph, in 1865.

Southern Illinois Normal University President Robert Allyn acquired the portrait in the early 1880s. Rescued from a fire that consumed the original Old Normal building in 1883, the portrait was forgotten for many years before being rediscovered in a closet, unframed and damaged, in the 1950s. It was professionally restored in New York City and hung in Morris Library’s American Heritage Room.

For more information about viewing the Lincoln portrait in the Vandalia Statehouse, contact Mary Cole at 618/283-1161 or visit http://www.state.il.us/HPA/hs/Vandalia.htm.

Serving others is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint the University is following as it approaches its 150th anniversary in 2019.