On the morning of April 15, 1865, Abraham Lincoln died of a gunshot wound, sustained the previous night at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC. He and his wife Mary had been attending a play, just days after General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant, essentially ending the Civil War.
While still a functioning performance venue, Ford’s Theatre serves today as venerated museum and education center. And beginning in May, a Nashville artist’s innovative portrait of Lincoln will hang in its lobby for a year.
Literally Made From History
Wayne Brezinka’s 5′ x 4′ portrait is part painting and part three-dimensional collage of cardboard, rope and several artifacts he collected from the 1860s.
The President’s bow tie is built from bent and shaped tintype portrait photos. Other tintypes are embedded in his beard and eyebrows.
Lincoln’s ear and the shadow around his eye contain photos of slaves, as though his destiny and theirs were physically inseparable. Another photograph, of slaves picking cotton on a plantation, adorns his coat.
Popular newspapers from 1862 and 1863, along with a patriotic, 33-star flag envelope, are found in the red and white stripes behind him.
Just above Lincoln’s ear, there’s a photo of a field in Gettysburg.
Brezinka likens working with images from a bygone era to “capturing time like a firefly in a jelly jar”, and he describes a long-standing fascination with Lincoln’s face that compelled him:
His face to me, is like a map finding its way – full of roads and leathery lines shaped like rivers and trails leading to truth and the desire to overcome.
A native of Minneapolis, Wayne Brezinka moved to Nashville in the 1990s to design album covers and eventually became an art director for EMI Records. He only began making fine art in the last five years.
Of All Places
Upon completion of “Lincoln”, Brezinka pitched the piece to a number of art museums and Lincoln-related sites. After several thanks-but-no-thanks responses, Brezinka received a much-welcomed letter from Ford’s Theatre’s exhibition curator Tracey Avant, offering to show it in the theatre’s lobby.
It’s hard to imagine a more poetic spot for the portrait, constructed from remnants of the history Lincoln defined, than the place where he was killed, in a failed attempt to reignite the war he’d just won.
You can learn more about the artist from his website. Here’s a “video tour” of Wayne Brezinka’s “Lincoln”: