The Bruce Museum newest exhibition "Lincoln, Life-Size" opens Saturday and will be on display through June 6. The exhibition features photographs of Abraham Lincoln reproduced full size, hanging alongside original 19th-century images and artifacts that tell the story of Lincoln's tumultuous presidency. The exhibition is drawn from the Meserve-Kunhardt Collection which it has on loan from the Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation.
Kunhardt, Jr., is the great-great-grandson of Frederick Hill Meserve one of this country's premiere Lincoln collectors. Meserve's passion for Lincoln was ignited in the 1880s when his father, William Neal Meserve, who had served in the Civil War, asked him to hunt for photographs to illustrate his handwritten war diary. Five generations of the family have preserved this massive historical record over the past century.
The exhibition chronicles the toll of war etched into the face of our 16th president. Life-size enlargements of Lincoln's portraits circle the entire central gallery. Visitors will experience what it was like to stand before him and look into his eyes. Beneath this facial timeline of his presidency is a selection of photographs of people who touched his life and events that nearly wore him out.
The show explores the time from Abraham Lincoln's arrival in Washington in 1857 through his assassination in 1865. Photographs chronicle events as the war unfolds, his son dies and he struggles with generals and mounting death tolls. In the photographs, Lincoln is revealed in a variety of poses, each bearing a significance that attests to the historic nature of his life, be it as he is grappling with emancipation or drafting words that would become sacred; serving as husband and father or being pulled in all directions by his constituents; and ultimately as he holds the country together throughout the turbulent times of the Civil War.
Highlights of the exhibition include Leonard Volk's bronze life mask of Lincoln's head and hands, glass negatives by Mathew Brady, original albumen war prints by Alexander Gardner and Timothy O'Sullivan, and carte-de-visites of Lincoln, his family, his cabinet and his generals.
Viewers can study official government war maps, view a Thomas Nast drawing depicting the slavery issue and walk around an early "triptych" photograph that portrays Lincoln, Grant, or Sherman, depending on where the viewer stands. An oversize "imperial" print shows Lincoln just days before delivering his Gettysburg address. In another imperial print a lab technician's thumb print obliterates Lincoln at his second inaugural, but what is visible is a spectator in the crowd who appears to be John Wilkes Booth. Another photograph of Booth has these words written on the back side: "Recognize him and kill him." Lincoln, Life-Size also includes artifact related to Lincoln and his era.
"We have presented these works so that viewers can see how the toll the war and personal tragedies aged him during his years in office," said Kunhardt, Jr.
"In fact, he was just 56 years old when he was assassinated."
This is the first museum exhibition dedicated to the collection of the Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation, which is now housed on the campus of SUNY Purchase.
The recent book, "Lincoln, Life-Size," co-authored by Phillip B. Kunhardt III, Peter W. Kunhardt and Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr. is available in the Bruce Museum Store. A full array of exhibition programming related to the exhibition is scheduled.
The Bruce Museum is located at 1 Museum Drive in Greenwich. General admission is $7 for adults, $6 for seniors and students, and free for children under five and Bruce Museum members. Free admission to all on Tuesdays. Museum hours are: Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., and closed Mondays and major holidays. For information, call the Bruce Museum at (203) 869-0376, or visit the Bruce Museum website at www.brucemuseum.org.