On what would have been Abraham Lincoln’s 210th birthday, Washburn University's Mulvane Art Museum is excited to announce it has acquired a bronze face mask of Abraham Lincoln. The mask was originally created in terra-cotta by renowned American artist and former Washburn University (then Washburn College) instructor Robert Merrell Gage. The opportunity emerged through the North Carolina Gallery of Fine Art, who purchased the original terra-cotta in 1992 and cast the bronze in 2018.
The bronze sculpture, “The Face of Lincoln,” will be unveiled at 3 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 21, in the Bradbury Thompson Alumni Center in conjunction with Washburn’s annual Harman Lincoln Lecture.
“With Washburn University’s start as Lincoln College and Robert Merrell Gage’s representation in the Mulvane collection, the acquisition of the bronze mask of Abraham Lincoln by Gage presents a unique opportunity,” said Connie Gibbons, director, Mulvane Art Museum. “It will remain forever as an important part of our permanent collection and as a tribute to the history and values of Washburn University.”
Gage was born in Topeka, Kansas. He studied at Washburn College under Frances Davis Whittemore, who encouraged him to become a sculptor. In 1911, he traveled to New York where he studied at the Art Students League and the Robert Henri School of Art. Upon completing his studies in 1914, Gage became an assistant to the sculptor Gutzon Borglum, best known for sculpting the monumental visages of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt at Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota. Gage taught art at the then Washburn College from 1915-17. In 1918, a bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln, his first significant commission, was installed at the southeast corner of the grounds of the state capitol in Topeka and still sits there today. In 1955, Gage’s film, “The Face of Lincoln,” won an Academy Award in the two-reel short subject category.
This cast of “The Face of Lincoln” was made possible by donors to the Mulvane Art Museum.
“When the opportunity to acquire this artwork developed, friends and generous donors to the Mulvane moved quickly to make it happen,” said Marshall Meek, president, Washburn University Alumni Association and Foundation. “We are thankful for their thoughtful dedication to honoring the history of Gage’s work.”