Mr. Lincoln was clean-shaven when he arrived in Kalamazoo on August 27, 1856. He didn't grow his famous beard until four years later, the first US president to have a beard. Our intent is to have the statue reflect Lincoln's 47-year-old appearance much as he looked when spoke in Kalamazoo.
There is no available primary source that tells us just where Lincoln spoke in the park. We do know there were four speaker stands in the park that day. It is possible the speakers rotated among these stands, but that is conjecture. We also know that Lincoln spoke again that evening in front of the old courthouse, which no longer exists.
The statue was unveiled and dedicated on August 27, 2023, 167 years to the day and hour that Lincoln spoke to the crowd in Kalamazoo.
We reviewed the process used by the Kalamazoo community in selecting the artist for the Martin Luther King Jr. statue now located in the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park in the city’s Northside neighborhood. We have been careful to model best practices used in that successful community-wide effort.
Part of our community engagement included a county-wide penny drive conducted in cooperation with Kalamazoo county public school administrators and staff, which involved hundreds of students, teachers and parents.
A Request for Qualifications was sent out nationally in January 2022 with an open call to artists submitted to the Chicago Artists Coalition, and Art Opportunities. Reponses were due by March 4, 2022. Over a dozen submissions were received from across the country. The process was open, competitive, and deliberative.
Pursuant to the authority given the KLI by the city of Kalamazoo, the KLI created a four-member committee from among KLI board members who were assisted by a two-member Artistic Advisory Committee comprised of WMU art instructors Vincent Torano and Patrick Wilson. Kalamazoo Valley Museum Curator Emeritus Tom Dietz was recruited to serve as a consulting historian.
The statue committee met with Joseph A. Becherer, founding director and curator of the sculpture program at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids and now the director of the Snite Museum of Art at the University of Notre Dame. Mr. Becherer provided valued advice and input throughout the selection process. Also, committee members independently toured relevant sculptures from around the country and sought local feedback on various artists’ qualifications. These contacts included communications with park officials at Gettysburg National Cemetery.
Other contacts included a meeting with Michael Evans of the Kalamazoo Literacy Council who managed the Sojourner Truth statue project in Battle Creek. He too offered valued counsel and advice. Lincoln statue expert Dave Wiegers was also consulted.
An initial selection of five semi-finalists was narrowed to three. References were thoroughly vetted by committee members, after which each artist came to Kalamazoo to present their design maquettes. Presentations were made before the KLI board and various attending members of the Kalamazoo community in early June of 2022.
Yes, every effort was made to consider local and statewide artists. The selection process was engaging, competitive and fair.
The statue was paid for through private donations from people throughout Kalamazoo and across Michigan. Most notably, a penny drive among public school students in Kalamazoo County raised funds for the statue.
According to a Memorandum of Understanding between the City of Kalamazoo and the KLI, the city will take ownership of the statue and will be the primary curator of the statue for purposes of cleaning and preservation. This agreement includes a reverter clause in the transfer-of-ownership document that returns the statue to the Institute should the city ever remove the statue from the park.
Our Lincoln-legacy plans envision a biennial Kalamazoo Lincoln Symposium with visiting scholars and speakers, and art and essay contests for local youth. We are currently working on developing educational resources instructive of Lincoln's 1856 visit . We are committed to promoting leadership development using Lincoln's example of statesmanship.
Additional plans include collaborating with Michigan’s 37 other Lincoln-related sites such as the Henry Ford in Dearborn, and with Pure Michigan to advance Michigan’s Lincoln Remembrance Trail to a state-of-the-art mobile tour using the latest technology as portals for access—building on work begun by the Michigan Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Committee.
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