I’ve been a little busy this past week!
It’s rare but I wasn’t working at home under the scrutiny and supervision of my fine felines for a good part of last week, and even for portions of the week and weekend prior to that, and even yesterday. And, likely, a few days this week as the exhibit is finalized as well.
I’m installing a rare and unique exhibit at my local public library, the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall in Carnegie. I’m transforming the Reception Hall, where I’ve performed my poetry readings and attended and supported and photographed many other events at the library, into “The Lincoln Gallery” as I permanently frame and hang a collection of 100 prints of photos of Abraham Lincoln.
Yes, no house panthers, and no “free cat hair” permanently sealed into the frames for posterity. The exhibit must be ready for the public by February 16, President’s Day, when the gallery opens in the afternoon and is celebrated that night with a performance of Aaron Copland’s “A Lincoln Portrait”. But I made the front page of my local paper as I was working!
Abraham Lincoln came to prominence as a public figure in the 1840s, at the dawn of commercial photography, and from the beginning—even before all our modern day communications and social networking—he understood the importance of having his image in front of the people, though he famously laughed at his “homeliness” and even called himself “ugly”. But the first photo in the collection is a print of an 1847 daguerreotype of the young lawyer who was Springfield, Illinois’ Whig representative to the United States Congress, and between that date and 1861, when he arrived in Washington to give his first inaugural address and take office for his first term as president, the collection contains nearly 40 images of Lincoln, lawyer, politician, senator, presidential nominee, and president-elect, in all known forms of photography at the time. Most of those were his own initiative to go to the local photographer’s studio and have a portrait made; after he was president he also had portraits made and others also sought him out.
The art and craft of capturing images on glass and metal plates and then on various films grew as innovators experimented and refined known techniques for less cumbersome equipment, less complicated processes and faster and faster exposures. Viewing the consecutive images in the Lincoln gallery shows the change from the stiff unsmiling poses to relaxed and less formal compositions, and the development of photographic portraiture distinguishing itself from the centuries-established art of the painted portrait, and also began to edge into news coverage, which had long been the province of illustrators and engravers.
The years and the war over which Lincoln presided were the first to be recorded in photographs. Photographic techniques and processes evolved to capture the horrors of the Civil War, and while the war was fought on farms and fields literally in the back yards of America, for the first time in history photographers brought back realistic images of battles and battlefields to those who were not present. Sadly, photography also recorded the photos of the first president to be assassinated in office, and a rare photo of President Lincoln in his casket is the last photo in the collection.
Like many rare and historic collections, the photos have a long and circuitous route from “there” to “here”.
These photographs were made from copy negatives owned by photojournalist Stefan Lorant, author of among other books Pittsburgh: the Story of an All American City and Lincoln: A Picture Story of His Life. Lorant had quite a career as a photojournalist and filmmaker in his native Hungary and was imprisoned in 1939 by the Nazi regime for his work and views. While a prisoner, Lorant chose a German translation of Lincoln’s speeches and writings from the cart of books delivered from the prison library, beginning his lifelong fascination with Lincoln. Lorant was soon released and emigrated to the U.S., pursuing his interest in Lincoln and collecting photographs of him. His pictorial biography of Lincoln was first published in 1941, less than a year after coming to this country.
Locally, Norman Schumm had been a Navy pilot and eventually became a corporate pilot for PNC Bank, but was also a devoted photographer. Norm met Stefan Lorant through one of Norm’s aerial photos of Pittsburgh, and worked with Lorant in his photographer capacity on three editions (1975, 1980 and 1999) of Pittsburgh: the Story of an All American City.
In 1997, Lorant contacted Norm to print photographs from his collection of Lincoln copy negatives, and as part of the compensation for his work Norm was permitted to print a full set of the 100 Lincoln portraits for himself. The photos in this collection are those 100 prints.
I first worked with these 100 photographs to prepare them for their first exhibit at the ACFL&MH from February through April 2010, above. Norm had only shown the photos once, displayed for an evening at a meeting of the Photographic Section of the Academy of Science and Art of Pittsburgh on the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth, February 12, 2009. He loaned this collection to the Library & Music Hall to complement the re-opening of the restored Captain Thomas Espy Post No. 153 of the Grand Army of the Republic, housed in the library (and another site to visit for its fascinating contents and stories) in February 2010. Norm had mounted each photo, most 11” x 14” with a few odd sizes and shapes, on two-ply mounting board and added a card containing the number, date and caption from Lorant’s Lincoln. I had mats cut and the library purchased 100 identical 16” x 20” matte-finish black frames and I spent several days moving the caption card onto the mat, situating the photo into the mat, closing up the frames and hanging the images for the temporary display on borrowed wire display panels from a local art organization. When I had only the first dozen done and leaned them against the wall I knew the display would be powerful. When it was all up it was nearly overwhelming at first until I grew accustomed to each of the images.
Last year, the Library & Music Hall purchased the collection from Norm. They were still in their frames, but this time they would be hung permanently and the caption cards updated and corrected where necessary for grammar, punctuation and the occasional detail that could not be understood without the context of the entire Lincoln book. The library needed to purchase its own display panels and we decided to hang them in two courses instead of three to make them easier to view for visitors.
So the preparations of looking for just the right display panels to designing the display on paper, then setting up and printing and trimming the new caption cards led up to taking each image out of its frame, replacing the caption card, cleaning the glass inside and replacing the mat and photo, closing up and adding strap hangers and wire to the back, and finally hanging the photos on the panels this past week. Right now two images still need corrected caption cards, the panels need their final wire support to the wall and I can then touch up each frame that needs it, clean the glass, and give it its final straightening.
It was a very big project, but I’m more than pleased to be the one to do the work of hanging it, and be able to study each image as I work with it. And even though this is the second time I’ve worked with this collection I still find images I hadn’t really noticed before, and have another reason to learn something new.
And not only that, but I’m fortunate that, in my capacity as a freelance commercial artist, I can do things like this for a living. The Library & Music Hall has been one of my regular customers for design and photography for nearly a decade, and the executive director has also supported me in hosting my poetry readings and art exhibits. It’s also one of my favorite places, period, being one of the places I’ve visited regularly since birth.
About the gallery and the Espy post, please read this article in the Tribune-Review.
And here is the article in my local newspaper.
Here’s a little bit about the performance…
Join us on President’s Day 2015
If you are local and would like to attend the opening of the gallery and the performance of A Lincoln Portrait, here are the details for February 16, 2015, and you can also visit the facility’s website, www.carnegiecarnegie.org:
2:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.: Lincoln Gallery Opening, free to the public.
7:00 p.m.: A Lincoln Portrait Performance, tickets are $15/$5 for children 12 and under. $18/$5 at the door.
To celebrate the opening of the Library & Music Hall’s new Lincoln Gallery, the Allegheny Brass Band, under the direction of Stephen Baldanzi, will perform a concert of Civil War-inspired music. The concert concludes with Aaron Copland’s haunting tribute to the 16th President of the United States, A Lincoln Portrait. Congressman Tim Murphy will narrate the piece that incorporates some of Lincoln’s most stirring oratory. The performance will be followed by a dessert reception in the ACFL&MH’s new Lincoln Gallery.
So there we are. I had prepared posts for last week and the week before but have run out of prepared posts, though I am working on new ones for this week and possibly next. I hope to be back to my regular schedule of posting this week but if I miss a few you’ll know where I am. And I’ve got soooooo many photos of beautiful kitties too, and new artwork, and other news, I can’t wait to share it all! But first, these two have something to say.
All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in using one in a print or internet publication. If you are interested in purchasing a print of this image or a product including this image, check my Etsy shop or Fine Art America profile to see if I have it available already. If you don’t find it there, visit Ordering Custom Artwork for more information on a custom greeting card, print or other item.
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