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Chrysler Commemorates Abraham Lincoln with two Photography Shows

NORFOLK, Va. (Jan. 14, 2015) – In conjunction with the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, the Chrysler Museum presents two photography exhibitions exploring the life and legacy of President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865).

Shooting Lincoln: Photography and the Sixteenth President and Greta Pratt: Nineteen Lincolns open on February 10, in the Museum's Frank Photography Galleries (G. 228). Both shows will remain on view through July 5, 2015. Admission is free.

"Abraham Lincoln was not camera-shy," said Alex Mann, Brock Curator of American Art, who curated both exhibitions. "As our nation remembers Lincoln's achievements and the anniversary of his assassination, these exhibitions bring us face-to-face with this great leader."

Shooting Lincoln: Photography and the Sixteenth President

Lincoln's political career coincided with major scientific advances in photography, allowing Mathew Brady, Alexander Gardner, and other photographers to capture his image in studio portraits, at the White House, and on the battlefields of the Civil War. After his death, photos of Lincoln's funeral ceremonies helped the nation grieve and heal.

The exhibition presents more than 70 rarely exhibited works from the Chrysler Museum's rich photography collections. The Museum has long been a leader in scholarship on Civil War photography, beginning in 1991 with its groundbreaking exhibition on Alexander Gardner (1821–1882). As an assistant to the famed photographer Mathew Brady, and later running his own studio, Gardner created hundreds of portraits and documentary battlefield shots that remain iconic and poignant. Shooting Lincoln features more than 20 pictures by Gardner, including some works, such as President Lincoln on Battle-field of Antietam (1862), recently lent to the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art for their 2013 blockbuster exhibition The Civil War and American Art.

Other key pictures in Shooting Lincoln have never been exhibited. These include a close-up image of Lincoln's elaborately decorated funeral hearse, newly identified as the work of the Philadelphia photographer Alexander Wilson Henszey More fresh faces appear in a stereocard celebrating Lincoln's heroic efforts to abolish slavery. Featuring portraits of the president and all of the 157 senators and representatives who voted in favor of the 13th Amendment, this rare 1865 photomontage by George May Powell is a recent Museum purchase.

"These pictures have been studied by historians and by Hollywood," says Mann. "Lincoln the Great Emancipator, Lincoln the Commander-in-Chief, Lincoln the family man—cameras captured every face of Honest Abe. Our show brings them all together."

Many of the finest works in this exhibition are from the Chrysler Museum's David L. Hack Collection of vintage Civil War photos. Acquired in 1998, the Hack Collection is renowned for both its high quality and size, comprising over 350 prints. Highlights of the group include its large-scale "Imperial" photos, such as Alexander Gardner's February 5, 1865 double portrait of Lincoln and his youngest son Tad. Glass plate negatives allowed production of these big, crisp albumen prints, and some are preserved on their original paper mounts.

"The scarcity and fragility of these photographs cannot be overstated," Mann said. "If exposed to too much light, old prints can easily become faded or discolored, but some of the photos in this show are remarkably sharp and fresh. We're excited to share these treasures."

The exhibition concludes with chilling images of the conspirators who orchestrated Lincoln's murder. Alexander Gardner's Adjusting the Ropes (1865) records the final seconds before the hanging of the assassins, with blazing July sunlight beating down on the prisoners, guards, and a crowd of witnesses. These photos were the basis for engravings published in newspapers like Harper's Weekly, and such early examples of photojournalism are an important dimension of the show.

"There's still so much to learn about Lincoln and his world," said Mann. "Each of these images has multiple stories—the story of Lincoln, of the photographers who made these works, and of the citizens who originally purchased and collected them. Our research continues, just as these photos and Lincoln's heroism continue to inspire new generations."

Greta Pratt: Nineteen Lincolns
Abraham Lincoln lives on in the work of Pulitzer Prize-nominated photographer Greta Pratt. For the series Nineteen Lincolns (2004-05), Pratt created portraits of modern-day presidential reenactors from the Association of Lincoln Presenters. A black suit and stove-pipe hat instantly make each subject recognizable as Honest Abe, despite the diversity of their faces, ages, and demeanors.

"Everyone is looking at Lincoln during this anniversary year," Mann said. "Greta Pratt's work reminds us that this fascination is nothing new, that reenactors have made him an inspiring presence across our nation for generations."

Pratt's series continues her ongoing concern with the role of historical images and myths in contemporary American culture. She has traveled throughout the United States to document local pageants, festivals, and everyday expressions of identity that are in dialogue with the past. These insightful images received early recognition from the Smithsonian American Art Museum with the 1994 publication of Pratt's series In Search of the Corn Queen. Pratt later published Using History (2005) and The Wavers (2014), and her work has been collected by the Smithsonian, the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and other prestigious public institutions.

Nineteen Lincolns debuted at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in 2005. It has since been installed at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, among other venues. In 2007 Pratt became an Associate Professor of Photography at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., and her work has frequently been on display at ODU's Baron and Ellin Gordon Galleries. This exhibition is Pratt's first at the Chrysler Museum.

As Pratt created Nineteen Lincolns, she interviewed the reenactors to learn what drew them to this particular famous figure. "They revere Lincoln for his moral character," said Pratt. "He embodies one of America's most cherished tenets—that the common man, through sheer hard work and determination, can elevate his status in society."

By pairing this installation with the historical photos in the adjacent exhibition Shooting Lincoln, the Chrysler Museum brings past and present together, adding a new dimension to Pratt's work. "We hope visitors will treat these two shows as a conversation," Mann said. "What emotions do you read in Lincoln's face in the great Alexander Gardner portraits? Which personality traits are Pratt's reenactors suggesting?

"Photographs are powerful both as historical documents and as works of art," Mann said. "Come see these images, admire their details, and feel Abraham Lincoln's enduring presence in our lives."

The recently expanded Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Va., is one of America's most distinguished mid-sized art museums, with a nationally recognized collection of more than 30,000 objects, including one of the great glass collections in America. The core of this collection was given to the Museum by Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., an avid art collector who donated thousands of objects from his private collection to the Museum in 1971. In the years since Chrysler's death in 1988, the Museum has dramatically extended its campus and developed new ties with the Norfolk community. It now has rapidly growing collections, especially in the fields of contemporary glass, American art, and photography. The Museum's Frank Photography Galleries routinely display highlights from the Chrysler's broad collection of over 4,000 photographs, as well as traveling shows.

In 2011, the Chrysler opened a full-service glass studio with a 560-pound capacity furnace, a full hot shop, a flameworking studio, nine annealing ovens, and a coldworking shop. In addition, the Chrysler administers two Federal-period historic houses in downtown Norfolk: the Moses Myers House and the Willoughby-Baylor House.

The Chrysler Museum of Art, One Memorial Place, Norfolk, and its Perry Glass Studio at 745 Duke St., are open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. The Historic Houses on E. Freemason Street are open weekends. Admission is free. For more information on exhibitions, events, and programs, call (757) 664-6200.


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