January 31, 2007

Library's rare paintings of Lincoln are 'on tour'

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Two rare paintings of Abraham Lincoln owned by Southern Illinois University Carbondale are touring the former president's old stomping grounds in the central part of the state during renovations at the University's Morris Library.

The portraits will be on display in the communities of Vandalia, Bloomington and, hopefully, Springfield. Lincoln spent time in those areas as both a traveling lawyer and lawmaker during the mid 1800s.

Both portraits previously hung in the American Heritage Room at Morris Library, which is undergoing a $48 million renovation and expansion. Most of the library's valuable art collection is in storage for the duration of the project, scheduled for completion in mid or late 2008.

Library Affairs Dean David Carlson said it made sense to share the Lincoln portraits with the rest of the 16th president's adopted home state during the renovation.

"Morris Library has been these paintings' home and when the building re-opens, they will have a new American Heritage Room to hang in," Carlson said. "But in the meantime, rather than just box them up, we thought it made sense to share the wealth."

One portrait, painted by Alban Jasper Conant, currently is on display at the Vandalia State House, 315 W. Gallatin St., one of the state's early capitols. Conant, who lived from 1821-1915, worked in the Springfield area during the mid 1800s, where he painted portraits of local leaders. Prominent St. Louis businessman William McPherson in 1860 commissioned the painting of the Republican presidential nominee, which depicts a smiling Lincoln and is reminiscent of a contemporary photograph. The University purchased the painting in the early 1880s during the tenure of then-University President Robert Allyn. It was rescued from the 1883 fire that destroyed the original Old Normal Building.

The second portrait is by Philadelphia painter Edward Dalton Marchant (1806-1887). Phillip Sang, of River Forest, gave it to the University in 1959. Marchant's portraits include several notable Americans including Henry Clay, John Quincy Adams and Illinois Gov. Edward Coles, library officials said.

Both portraits will go on display following a ceremony Feb. 15 at the David Davis Mansion, 1000 E. Monroe Drive, in Bloomington. Davis was a longtime friend of Lincoln's and a fellow lawyer, whom the president ultimately appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency maintains Davis' home.

After a yet-to-be-determined period of time there, library officials hope to display both portraits at the Old State Capitol in Springfield, where Lincoln practiced law and gave his famous "House Divided" speech when embarking upon his run for the U.S. Senate.

Carlson said the library's preservationist, Barbara Summers, will ensure the portraits are well cared for during their tour of central Illinois.

"Making these paintings available like this will allow residents to view them in historic context," Carlson said.