The Young Lincoln

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The Young Lincoln
c. 1945
Charles Keck
Senn Park
Bronze sculpture on a concrete base
12 x 8 x 8 ft. 
On loan to the Chicago Park District from the Chicago Public Library (CPL 80.21)

Have you ever seen an artwork of a young Abraham Lincoln? This nine-foot tall bronze sculpture of Young Lincoln was created by Charles Keck around 1950, just before the artist died. Keck, who worked as an apprentice to the famous Irish-American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens in the 1890s, won an important award in 1899, and went on to his own successful art career. According to Keck’s son, he made this sculpture for his own pleasure. In doing so, he decided to portray Abraham Lincoln much differently than Saint-Gaudens had in his two heroic sculptures, Abraham Lincoln: The Man and Abraham Lincoln: Head of State. Keck did not depict Lincoln as a famous statesman; rather, he appears as a clean-shaven young man. Look at the Young Lincoln’s clothing, where he is sitting, and what he is holding. The figure is wearing what looks like a work shirt, with sleeves rolled up, revealing muscular arms. This sculpture gives you the feeling that Lincoln has just finished work, found a comfortable tree stump to sit on, grabbed his book, and is lost in his law studies. Lincoln came from a poor family and was mostly self-taught. During his teens and early twenties, he had various jobs that involved manual labor such as helping to plow fields and working as a deckhand on a flatboat. This sculpture is located in Senn Park, near the site of the Seven Mile House, where Lincoln met with local supporters during his presidential campaign in 1860.

1. There are no photographs of Lincoln as a young man, so artists had to imagine what he looked like. Do you think Keck has done a good job of that here? 

2. How does this sculpture compare to the two by Saint-Gaudens, Abraham Lincoln: The Man and Abraham Lincoln: Head of State? Do you find it more interesting? Why or why not?

3. How does this sculpture compare to Lincoln the Rail-splitter in Garfield Park? Which do you like better and why?

Further reading:
“Public Art in Chicago” (blog) Accessed July 25, 2011.

“Web-based Guide to the Chicago Park District’s Fountains, Monuments, and Sculptures,” 2010.

Chicago Public Library