North Central College - Naperville, IL

Monumental Connections

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Recent research has uncovered that a bronze bust of Abraham Lincoln displayed at North Central College is linked to the sculptor who created Mount Rushmore.

The Lincoln bust may be viewed by the public and has been on display for many years in the south vestibule to the College’s Oesterle Library, 320 E. School St. The artifact is part of the Library’s Sang Collection and recently was moved to the Schoenherr Gallery at the Fine Arts Center during an exhibit of items from the College’s Special Collections as part of a celebration of the College’s Sesquicentennial.

The increased visibility of the item prompted some curiosity from visitors to the exhibit, which resulted in the item’s history being researched by Kimberly Butler, College archivist. Lincoln, the nation’s 16th president, was born on Feb. 12, 1809, and was president when North Central College was founded in 1861 by evangelical Christians. A.A. Smith—the College’s first president—was an abolitionist.

“There are many interesting parallels between Lincoln and the College,” says John Small, Clare and Lucy Oesterle Director of Library Services. “Lincoln presided over the birth of a transformed republic. Many things the College did in its early days would have been supported by Lincoln.”

The bust is a bronze replica of an original sculpture created by Gutzon Borglum (1867-1941), who is best known for his role in creating the memorial at Mount Rushmore. Borglum used a solid piece of white marble to create the original sculpture of Lincoln’s head in 1908. The marble sculpture was on display in Theodore Roosevelt’s White House and subsequently donated to the U.S. Capitol. It remained on display in the rotunda until 1979 when it was relocated to a crypt below the rotunda, where it remains today.

In the early 20th century, several bronze casts were made of the marble bust, though the exact dates of origin and makers of the bronze casts remain unknown. Similar casts are housed at the Chicago History Museum and Lincoln’s Tomb in Springfield. Oesterle Library’s copy of the bronze was donated by Phillip and Elsie Sang, noted philanthropists and collectors, and is part of the Sang Collection within the Library’s Special Collections. The Sangs donated many historical artifacts to North Central College and other universities throughout the United States.

Borglum’s work on the Lincoln bust brought him attention in the United States and resulted in the Daughters of the Confederacy commissioning the artist to design Stone Mountain in Georgia, a massive-scale representation of leaders of the Confederacy. Although work began in 1923, Borglum quickly fell out with the sponsors of the project and the final work included nothing completed by Borglum personally, although his original concept endured.

After reading of the Stone Mountain venture in 1923, the State Historian of South Dakota, Doane Robinson, contacted Borglum about the possibility of doing a mountain carving in the Black Hills. Borglum arrived in South Dakota in 1925 and set in motion the machinery that eventually led to the creation of Mount Rushmore. Work on the sculpture began in 1927. Borglum remained devoted to the project until his death in Chicago following surgery on March 6, 1941. The Mount Rushmore sculptures were completed by Borglum’s son, Lincoln, and dedicated on Oct. 31, 1941.