J. Seward Johnson, whose statues are so lifelike a security guard once shot one, envisions a down-to-earth rendering of Abraham Lincoln for the town where the 16th president delivered his most famous speech.
Johnson's Lincoln will be near the town square but on the sidewalk instead of a pedestal - and aside a likeness of a 20th century tourist. The tourist, dressed in slacks and a cable-knit sweater, holds a copy of the Gettysburg Address as he listens to the president.The artist, who lives near Princeton, N.J., has been commissioned to create the statue for this rural Pennsylvania town where Lincoln delivered the famed Civil War speech 127 years ago.
Johnson, perched on an antique chair in the office of Civil War scholar Gabor Boritt, said the statute is designed "to celebrate Lincoln's humanity, bring him off a pedestal, celebrate the greatness of him as a human being."
Another purpose is "to show that the Gettysburg Address was still a meaningful document today."
The 268-word address, whose opening, "Four score and seven years ago," is familiar to millions, is regarded by scholars as one of the most forceful and elegant speeches ever made.
Lincoln delivered the address at a dedication of the national military cemetery in Gettysburg on Nov. 19, 1863.
In Johnson's artwork, Lincoln is saying something to the tourist as he points to the nearby Wills House, where he stayed the night before the speech.
"He might have been saying how uncomfortable the bed was," Johnson said with a laugh as he flexed his long, thick fingers.
A model has been on display around town for several weeks, and the reception has been positive, Johnson said. He resisted suggestions that he replace the tourist's sweater with a jacket but agreed to some minor changes.
"On something like this, I feel an artist has to be very sensitive to the people who have to live with it," he said.