A 31-foot tall bronze sculpture of Abraham Lincoln was crane lifted from the back of a semi onto a concrete base, behind the Peoria Riverfront Museum, on Tues. A variety of spectators gathered on the museum terrace overlooking Water St. to watch the installation.
Among them were two Civil War era re-enactors, playing Edwin and Catherine Morgan, governor and first lady of New York during the time of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address.
“We just enjoy showing up... trying to raise the dress code in the area."
Topped off with details, like a stovepipe hat and a parasol. In real life, they’re Richard Coggins of Peoria and Kay Saunders of Washington. As the crane prepared to hoist the great emancipator onto his feet, Saunders weighed in on the national discussion going on about Confederate statues.
“People don’t understand, they have a, kind of knee-jerk reaction to this kind of thing, and if they were more immersed history and would understand the context of it, then I think they would have a different appreciation of what the statues represent," Saunders said.
But she adds, this is plenty of room to add more statues of women and minorities. Saunders and Coggins both suggested a statue of Peoria artist Preston Jackson.
The piece honoring Lincoln, called “Return Visit,” includes a second sculpture of a so-called “modern man” in sneakers, holding the Gettysburg Address. In that speech, Lincoln identified the Civil War as a fight for the principle of human equality.
Riverfront Museum CEO John Morris says the ode to the 16th President is timely.
“Certainly in these times where there is discussion about freedom, and expression, and public art," Morris said. "This is seemingly an appropriate piece to erect, to install. To a man who saw our country staying together.”
The Lincoln sculpture by artist Seward Johnson was most recently on view in Chicago. It’s on loan from the Seward Johnson Foundation for one year. The Peoria Riverfront Museum says private donors covered the estimated $50,000 of moving and installing the bronze figures.