News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

July 12, 2009

The Off Season: Shaking hands with Mr. Lincoln

TERRE HAUTE — On a blistering hot afternoon a few weeks back, my wife and I knocked on the door of sculptor Bill Wolfe’s workshop on the west side of Clinton. We were there to meet Abraham Lincoln.

The 16th president has come to life again in Wolfe’s hands. Now at an Indianapolis foundry being cast in bronze, Wolfe’s Lincoln, all 6 feet, 4 inches of him, stood that day on a small, wooden platform, a piece of half-inch galvanized pipe slipped through his back to act as a temporary spine until he became a man of bronze.

The three of us sat and gabbed and gazed at old Abe in his beardless, pre-presidential days, his huge feet and El Greco hands and flowing topcoat all giving the clay man the attributes of length and power and reality. Wolfe has contracted his Lincoln to be placed on the courthouse square in Marshall, Ill., in this, the 200th anniversary of the great man’s birth. I think Bill is going to miss Lincoln in the days to come; he has spent considerable time talking to him, shaping him, cutting his long legs and tousled hair out of a shapeless gray lump.

To create Lincoln, Wolfe first had to get to know him; he has read extensively about the man and has carefully studied virtually every photograph ever taken of “The Railsplitter,” time-consuming work when one considers that Lincoln was among the most photographed men of his age.

Wolfe is a special man, himself; born in tiny Mecca he spent countless hours playing with and shaping the clay near the old tile plant there — his father worked at the factory — along Raccoon Creek, using his imagination to make his first sculptures. Staying on his grandparents’ farm near Coxville and Tick Ridge was also an integral part of Wolfe’s childhood. His family eventually moved to Clinton when Wolfe’s father changed jobs; the artist now lives near West Terre Haute.

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