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Mallet, Chisel, And Curls
Vinnie Ream sculptured Lincoln while she was still a teen-ager
February 1976 | Volume 27, Issue 2
She established a studio in Rome and selected a flawless slab of white Carrara marble for the Lincoln statue. After six months of arduous work the statue was finished, and Vinnie returned to the United States. Her moment of truth came shortly thereafter —in January of 1871, when members of Congress and other government officials, journalists, and personal friends gathered in the Rotunda to view the statue prior to its public unveiling. An Illinois delegation comprising individuals who had known the living Lincoln intimately were in the audience as the veil was slowly raised.
“There was a momentary hush, and than an involuntary, warm, and universal demonstration of applause gave the verdict of the distinguished and critical gathering, and assured the artist that her work was to be set down a success,” commented The Evening Star of Washington. ”… And then everybody turned to where the little sculptor-girl stood, a little in the rear with glad tears in her eyes, and congratulations were poured in upon her. …”
At the lavish public unveiling later that month Senator Matthew Carpenter of Wisconsin said that “if she has failed at all, it is in presenting a statue more attractive than the original. But failing in this is no impeachment of her genius, for God only could make a face so sad, so rugged, so homely as Lincoln’s was.” Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois added that “it was fit that he who, by his own unaided efforts, had risen from obscurity to the highest earthly position, and who had gone down to the grave mourned by the civilized world, should have his features transmitted to posterity by one who, like him, had nothing but her hands and her head to urge her forward.”
Vinnie’s achievement brought her both fame and new opportunity. At the age of thirty-one she interrupted her work to marry Lieutenant Richard L. Hoxie of the United States Army Engineers in a ceremony considered brilliant even by Washington standards. She then completed a heroic statue of David Glasgow Farragut, famed Civil War admiral, which had been commissioned by Congress. The statue was cast in bronze from the propeller of Farragut’s flagship, the U.S.S. Hartford , and placed in Farragut Square in the heart of the city. Although Vinnie, who became a popular Washington hostess, would later do other works as well, including two for Statuary Hall in the Capitol, she would be best remembered as the girl who sculptured Lincoln.
A century later millions of visitors to the Capitol each year pause before the statue of Abraham Lincoln, struck by its aura of simplicity and sadness. Few, however, know that the statue, one of the nation’s great art treasures, was executed by a young girl. Nor do they know how close a vindictive Congress came to reducing the statue merely to Vinnie Ream’s fond dream.