Drawings of Abraham Lincoln recently acquired by the Tarble Arts Center are featured in the latest version of the center’s Looking At Lincoln exhibition. The exhibition explores the life and times of Lincoln through art selected from the Tarble’s permanent collection.
Looking At Lincoln is on view through Aug. 11 in the Tarble’s main galleries. A related exhibition, The Experiences of the Illinois Civil War Soldier: Reflections in Art and Artifacts, is on show in the Tarble’s eGallery through July 7.
The newly acquired drawings are by Illinois artist Charles Turzak, who made the drawings in preparation for the creation of his seminal work from 1933, "Abraham Lincoln -- A Biography in Woodcuts." Turzak’s woodcut images later became known to generations of school students as the illustrations for the book "True Stories About Abraham Lincoln" by Ruth Belov Gross, printed for Scholastic Publishing from 1973 to 1990.
Turzak’s Lincoln biography has also been incorporated into a recent book titled "An Abraham Lincoln Tribute: Featuring Woodcuts by Charles Turzak" from Dover Publications Inc. Copies of the Dover tribute book and some of Turzak’s original woodcut prints are available for purchase in the Tarble Gift Shop.
To print his original books, Turzak carved 36 wood blocks, in public, as a part of the 1933 Century of Progress Chicago World's Fair. The artist based his woodcut carvings on the preliminary pencil studies now owned by the Tarble Arts Center. Turzak printed 1,500 copies of the Lincoln biography, and personally signed and numbered each copy. A draft copy and a signed, finished copy of the book are on view at the Tarble.
The exhibition also includes other woodcuts from the 1930s by Turzak, including the series titled "The History of Illinois," plus the 1939 lithograph "John Brown" by John Steuart Curry, and a collograph from a 1945 drawing of Lincoln by N. C. Wyeth.
There are also selections from the Tarble Arts Center Illinois Folk Arts Collection in the exhibition. Folk art that actually dates from around Lincoln’s time are an appliqué quilt made in Coles County around 1840 by Sara Dollar, and a cane believed to have been carved by a Union Civil War veteran named Cornelius Sullivan. The cane was donated to Eastern by the late EIU alumnus Burl Ives and his wife, Dorothy.
Twentieth-century Illinois folk art exhibited includes paintings and a quilt by Mary Eveland (1896-1981, Pekin), painted and carved wood dioramas by Ferd Metten (1893-1977, Teutopolis), dolls from the First Lady Doll Collection by Leta C. Whitacre (1902-1981, Lerna), a large-scale model of an 1830s' log tavern by Lodge Grant (1903-1994, McLeansboro), dolls from the Famous Black Americans Doll Collection by I. Roberta Bell (1904-1991, Chicago), and a whirlygig by contemporary Chicago folk artist Leonard Norman.
Grant’s tavern is a scale model of where Lincoln would have stayed while riding the circuit. Metten’s dioramas depict 19th-century homesteaders, a farm and a railroad station. From Bell are dolls of Elizabeth Keckley, Mary Todd Lincoln's seamstress and confidant; Underground Railroad guide Harriet Tubman; and the black abolitionists Fredrick Douglass, his wife, Anna Murray Douglass, and Sojourner Truth.
From Whitacre are dolls depicting Mary Todd Lincoln, Julia Dent Grant (wife of Ulysses S. Grant), and Martha Johnson Patterson (daughter of Andrew Johnson), who fulfilled many First Lady duties for her invalid mother, Eliza McCardle Johnson. Eveland’s paintings depict Lincoln riding the circuit and giving the Gettysburg Address, and Norman’s whirlygig is titled "Rail-Splittin’ Abe."
A 1927 oil painting by Paul T. Sargent of a log cabin on the Sargent farm serves as a link to the Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site, located in Coles County, south of Charleston. This site is the last homestead of Thomas Lincoln, Lincoln’s father. The site now also includes the farmhouse of Stephen Sargent, a contemporary of Lincoln whose farm was also located in Coles County, and the grandfather of the artist.
Coles County has a number of other Lincoln-related sites, including the Lincoln-Douglas Debate Museum on the Coles County Fairgrounds in Charleston (the site of the fourth Lincoln-Douglas debate of 1858), and the Rutherford House in Oakland that relates to Lincoln’s Matson Slave Trial case. Other sites include the Charleston courthouse square, site of the 1865 Charleston riot between pro-Southern “Copperheads” and Union soldiers; the Mattoon Public Library, which houses the historic wooden flag pole that flew at the Civil War camp in Mattoon where General U.S. Grant trained Union troops; and the Five Mile House (east of Charleston) and inn where travelers (probably including Lincoln) rested and watered their horses in the mid-1800s.
For more information or to arrange a group tour, contact the Tarble Arts Center at 217-581-ARTS (-2787) or at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Tarble Arts Center is located on Ninth Street at Cleveland Avenue on the EIU campus. Summer hours through Aug. 16 are: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, and closed Mondays and July 4. The Tarble is funded in part by Tarble Arts Center membership contributions, the Tarble Arts Center Endowment, and other project-specific sponsors and co-sponsors.