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Looking at Lincoln

June 3 - August 6, 2006

 

(above: Charles Turzak, Young Abe Lincoln Enters Coles County, Illinois, (also titled Young Lincoln Felling Trees), woodcut, 1934. Purchase, Gift of Mrs. Newton E. Tarble)

 

The exhibition Looking At Lincoln is currently on view at the Tarble Arts Center, Eastern Illinois University. The exhibition explores the life and times of Abraham Lincoln through art works from the Tarble's permanent collection. The exhibition remains on view through August 6, 2006.

Only two pieces in the exhibition actually date from Lincoln's time: an appliqué quilt made in Coles County around 1840 by Sarah Dollar, and a cane believed to have been carved by a Union Civil War veteran named Cornelius Sullivan from the 121st New York Volunteers. Both are from the Tarble's Folk Arts Collection, and the cane was donated to EIU by Burl and Dorothy Ives.

Most of the other art works are from the first half of the 20th Century. The bulk of the exhibition is made up of American Scene period woodcuts by Illinois artist Charles Turzak: two portfolios of woodcuts -- Abraham Lincoln: A Biography in Woodcuts and The History of Illinois, both circa 1934 -- and other Lincoln subjects. Also from American Scene period is John Steuart Curry's 1939 lithograph John Brown, and a collograph from a 1945 drawing of Lincoln by N.C. Wyeth. The American Scene was a style of art in the U.S. during the 1930s and '40s.

Also from the Tarble Arts Center's Folk Arts Collection are Leonard Norman's whirlygig Rail-Splittin' Abe, a scale model of a circa 1820s log tavern by Lodge Grant (the type Lincoln could have stayed in while serving as a circuit rider), a doll of Underground Railroad guide Harriet Tubman from the Famous Black American Doll Collection by Roberta Bell, and Ferd Metten's carved wood diorama of an 1800s farm titled Home On the Farm.

The cane is topped with a carving of a human head. It is circumscribed in a descending spiral of carved script, starting with the name "Sulivan," thought to be the name of the maker. Research shows that Cornelius Sullivan, from Little Falls, New York, was a member of the 121st New York Volunteers from 1862 to 1865 during the Civil War. The names and dates carved on the cane correspond to the battles in which the 121st New York Volunteers fought as part of the Union's Army of the Potomac and the Army of the Shenandoah, including Antietam (Sharpsburg), Gettysburg, Cold Harbor, and Sailor's Creek, part of the Appomattox campaign where Lee surrendered to Grant in 1865. (right: Lodge Grant (McLeansboro, Illinois; 1903 - ?), 1830s Log Tavern, wood & mixed media. Gift of the Artist)

Turzak, who made the Lincoln woodcuts, was the son of Czechoslovakian immigrant parents and grew up in the central Illinois town of Nokomis. In 1920 Turzak entered the Art Institute of Chicago and worked his way through to graduation in 1924. He stayed in Chicago as a free-lance artist, and by the late 1920s Turzak had gained public attention for his prints of Chicago scenes. For his first biographical book, Abraham Lincoln: Biography In Woodcuts, Turzak cut the woodblocks and printed pages in public view at the 1933 Century of Progress Chicago World's Fair. Like many artists during the Great Depression Turzak was given work through various New Deal programs including the woodcut series The History of Illinois, created as a commission from the Works Progress Administration (WPA).

John Steuart Curry, along with Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton, was a member of an American Scene group known as the Regionalists. Curry, from Kansas, was the most prone of the three to depict some of the civil strife of the period, especially the plight of African Americans. Some of Curry's best-known compositions are of John Brown (a prominent figure in the history of Kansas and the abolitionist movement) and have to do with social conflict. The lithograph John Brown and a similar oil painting of the same title were both derived from the mural The Tragic Prelude (1938-40) painted for the Kansas State Capitol.

The exhibition is presented to compliment the statewide "Looking for Lincoln" program that encourages communities throughout Illinois to explore their Lincoln heritage. The Charleston area has a number of Lincoln sites, including Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site located south of Charleston and the Lincoln-Douglas Debate Museum located on the Coles County Fairgrounds in Charleston, the site of the 4th Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858.

 

Story quilt by Zora Moore of Oakland, Illinois

A story quilt by Zora Moore of Oakland, Illinois, was added in July to the exhibition Looking At Lincoln at the Tarble Arts Center, Eastern Illinois University.

The appliquéd and embroidered quilt by Moore depicts 16 different events and locations from the life of Abraham Lincoln. Moore designed and created the individual story quilt blocks and then joined them together to form the quilt. Included are two panels that refer to Lincoln's time in Coles County ­ Lincoln splitting rails for his father Thomas' cabin at Goosenest Prairie, and saying goodbye to step-mother Sarah Bush Lincoln prior to leaving for Washington, D.C., to become President. The quilt was created about 1992 and is on loan from Moore's son and daughter-in-law, Darrell and Randi Moore.

Moore was born in Fisher, Illinois, on her great-grandfather's farm. She learned to quilt from her mother-in-law during the Depression when she was in her late teens. Her mother-in-law -- who had made quilts for each of her eleven children -- gave her scraps and a pattern and urged her to start. From then until recently Moore couldn't stop quilting: "Did you ever have a compulsion?" she commented in a 1992 interview.

Moore preferred to make appliquéd quilts more than pieced quilts, though she has made both kinds. She thinks that workmanship counts highly and always paid close attention to the quilting and binding stitches. But Moore also thinks the theme of the quilt is equally important. In her words, "it's just pure agony" to draw the picture and find suitable material. It would take her up to a week to produce one thematic block.

With her love for traditional designs, and her drive to produce quilts, Moore has filled a large scrapbook with samples of all the different quilts she made through the years, though she cannot estimate the number. The quality of her work has led her to be an honored guest and presenter at an annual show sponsored by Quiltworks, a quilting society based in Charleston.

The other folk art in the Lincoln exhibition are two pieces from Lincoln's time -- an appliqué quilt made in Coles County around 1840 by Sarah Dollar, and a cane carved by Union Civil War veteran Cornelius Sullivan donated to EIU by Burl and Dorothy Ives ­ plus Leonard Norman's whirlygig Rail-Splittin' Abe, a scale model of a circa 1820s log tavern by Lodge Grant , Ferd Metten's carved wood diorama Home On the Farm. and dolls depicting Civil War era African American abolitionists Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth, and Underground Railroad guide Harriet Tubman from the Famous Black American Doll Collection by Roberta Bell.

Also in the Looking At Lincoln exhibition are two wood block print suites by Charles Turzak -- Abraham Lincoln: A Biography in Woodcuts and The History of Illinois, both circa 1934 -- and other Lincoln subjects, John Steuart Curry's 1939 lithograph of John Brown, and a collograph from a 1945 drawing of Lincoln by N.C. Wyeth.

 


(above: story quilt by Zora Moore of Oakland, Illinois)

 

(above: (detail) story quilt by Zora Moore of Oakland, Illinois)

 

(above: (detail) story quilt by Zora Moore of Oakland, Illinois)

 

rev. 8/8/06

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