A statue of Abraham Lincoln planned for the Dayton VA Medical Center campus will honor the promise he made to the country’s veterans.
Ohio artist Mike Major has spent months shaping the likeness of the 16th president of the United States from plastiline clay and Styrofoam in his Urbana studio.
Studying photographs and drawing from extensive research, Major has created a detailed, larger-than-life image.
Lincoln’s wavy hair, thick eyebrows and beard are instantly recognizable. The creases along his forehead capture the uneasiness of guiding the nation through the Civil War.
“Lincoln’s been a favorite subject because he’s such a great man and such a great leader at the right time and right place,” said Major, who also created the statue of Lincoln on Dayton’s Courthouse Square.
Next week Major will transport the immense sculpture in two pieces to a Zanesville foundry where the lengthy process of creating a mold will begin and the statue will be finalized in bronze.
Just over a month before Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, he made a speech promising “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.”
Those words bound the country to care for tens of thousands of disabled veterans and the families of those who died during the Civil War.
Major’s sculpture depicts a seated Lincoln, pen in hand, with legislation he has signed establishing the National Soldier’s and Sailor’s Asylum to care for the veterans.
Dayton was the location for one of the first three soldier’s homes in the country, which is now today’s Dayton VA Medical Center.
“It’s a very sober moment for him and yet this is the mission he promised he would carry through,” Major said. “His expression is a moment of contemplation about what he has just signed and following through on his promise to take care of the soldiers.”
“People don’t realize a lot of the important things that Lincoln did,” said Glenn Costie, president of the American Veterans Heritage Center who, along with the Lincoln Society of Dayton, is raising funds for the sculpture and a new park.
“Certainly folks realize the freeing of the slaves and bringing the nation together in the Civil War. But tangential to those were other significant accomplishments completed in his presidency — and one of them was recognizing there was no system of care for veterans.”
The Lincoln sculpture wears a bow tie and vest under a jacket, a common uniform worn during his days as an attorney and as president.
He is seated in a favorite wooden chair he traveled with that would accommodate his lanky frame.
“I felt that a statement could be made by putting him in that chair that is humble, more ordinary and more him,” Major said. “The charm and connective ability of Lincoln was that he was an ordinary fellow in many ways even though he was brilliant.”
The seated figure spans eight feet from the base of the chair to the top of his head. Lincoln’s sprawling legs are crossed with the legislation resting on his knee. Major estimates the figure would be 15 feet tall if he was standing.
“I had tears in my eyes when I saw it, I was so taken aback,” Regina Payne, president of the Lincoln Society of Dayton, said after she saw the statue at Major’s studio. “It’s incredible. I felt like I was in his presence.”
Organizers are planning to dedicate the sculpture on the historic Dayton VA campus during Memorial Day weekend.
They hope the site, at Ohio and Kentucky avenues, will become a place of learning for Dayton Public School students as well as a national and international draw.
Costie also sees the park as a place for veterans to find comfort while being treated at the medical center.
“It will be a place to come and sit and reflect on Abraham Lincoln and gather inspiration from Lincoln’s story to help with their own treatment plan and success in their life.”
A fundraising plan was kicked off in November with a goal of raising $379,000.
The halfway mark was met last week, Costie said, with a significant donation of landscape design and installation from Buckeye Lawn and Landscaping/Oheil Irrigation, a Dayton company founded 38 years ago by Jeff Heil.
To learn more about the project and donate to the effort visit americanveteransheritage.org.
“We owe so much to these people who have given parts of their bodies, or their health or their careers in service of our country,” Major said. “For them to associate with this great leader and know that part of their history is intertwined with his legacy is at the heart of the purpose of this sculpture.”