Sitting atop Bascom Hill is the iconic statue of President Lincoln – arguably the most popular artwork on the UW-Madison campus. Abraham Lincoln by Adolph A. Weinman is a duplicate cast of a sculpture located near Hodgenville, Kentucky, Lincoln’s birthplace. Weinman depicts his Lincoln as calm yet powerful. One hand grips the arm of his chair while the other casually rests. An eagle with outstretched wings on the back of Lincoln’s chair resembles the United States governmental seal. The statue rests upon a granite pedestal. Carved into the base are the names of the 36 states – both North and South – that had been granted statehood prior to Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. An exedra with bench wraps around the statue and provides a place of solace. Abraham Lincoln acts as a shepherd for the university as he protectively gazes down Bascom Hill, toward the state capitol and beyond. Today, he also acts as a continuous point of reference and familiar icon for the campus community.
Although some have stated that the university acquired the sculpture because of Lincoln’s role in passing the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862 which led to UW-Madison’s designation as a land grant university, no such direct connection has been found in the historical record. The acquisition of the sculpture was the result Madison newspaper publisher Richard Lloyd Jones’ efforts, and his personal relationship with the sculptor.
Adolph A. Weinman was both sculptor and devoted medallist. He first studied at the prestigious Cooper Union in New York. Later, he continued his training as a studio assistant to two prominent sculptors who coincidentally also created influential statues of Lincoln: Augustus Saint-Gaudens and David Chester French. Saint-Gaudens created Standing Lincoln in Chicago’s Lincoln Park and French sculpted Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. UW-Madison’s Abraham Lincoln is not Weinman’s only substantial artwork in Madison. He is responsible for The Virtues and Traits of Character on the south pediment of the Wisconsin state capitol. Weinman primarily made his living making commemorative medals and coins. He had two coins minted in his lifetime, the Walking Liberty half dollar and the Mercury dime.
Abraham Lincoln is located at the top of Bascom Hill, in front of the main entrance to Bascom Hall.
Capitol Times, “The Lincoln statute atop Bascom gets scrubbed,” August 19, 2009.
UW-Madison News, “Event marks Lincoln statue’s century on campus,” September 14, 2009.
UW-Madison News, “UW-Madison’s Lincoln statue turns 100,” June 22, 2009.
UW Alumni Association, “Arrival of Lincoln Statue Commemorates 1909 Alumni Day.”
McCormick, Bart E., “How the Lincoln Statue Came to the Campus” in The Wisconsin Alumni Magazine Vol. 28, No. 4, (Feb. 1927).
Noe, Sydney P. Numismatic Notes and Monographs No. 7: The Medallic Work of A. A. Weinman. New York: The American Numismatic Society, 1921.