Daytonians tap Urbana artist for Lincoln statue

Larger-than-life monument needs donations.

For a larger-than-life figure like the nation’s 16th president, the Lincoln Society of Dayton commissioned a larger-than-life statue.

The society and Urbana sculptor Mike Major have that in mind as Major builds a 11-foot tall bronze representation of President Abraham Lincoln as he appeared in his Sept. 17, 1859, visit to Dayton.

Lincoln, then beardless, was in Dayton only for a few hours as he made an anti-slavery speech. But that visit, with many others, placed Lincoln on the national stage, paving the way for the GOP nomination and election to the presidency the next year.

The society’s intention is to place the statue on or near the Old Court House next September.

Diane Buchanan Johnson, president of the Lincoln Society, said the group hopes the statue’s unveiling will be a day to remember.

The society will schedule a parade near the Old Court House for the unveiling, scheduled for Sept. 17, 2016, a Saturday and the 156th anniversary of Lincoln’s visit. No route for a parade has been established yet. But speakers have been invited, including U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and Brady Kress, Dayton History chief executive, among many others.

“It’s a special occasion, because Daytonians need to remember the importance of Dayton in the history of the United States,” Johnson said.

The sculpture will on the plaza next to the Court House, facing north with the building’s pillars behind it, Johnson said.

In 1859, Lincoln spoke on the street, with much of the listening audience standing or sitting behind him on the steps of the Court House, which was completed in 1850.

The 11-foot statue will be placed on a four- to five-foot masonry base. Overall, with the base, it should be about 15 feet tall, Major said.

“It will be imposing,” he said, although he noted the statue will be close to a rather large 19th-century courthouse with columns five-feet thick at the base.

Major, 66, has built statues, busts and monuments for Springfield, the Mayo Clinic in Rochester Minn., and many other places. He may be best known locally for his downtown Urbana studio and for the Springfield statue of native son and featherweight world champion boxer Davey Moore.

The clay version of the Lincoln monument — which can be seen in Major’s studio — will be used to make the mold to cast the bronze through the “lost wax” process in an Illinois foundry.

The 300-pound clay sculpture will be driven to Illinois in two pieces the week of Oct. 19.

The lost wax process involves covering the clay figure with latex two inches thick. That coating will be backed with plastic, re-bar and fiber. All of that is then opened — destroying the original model, but providing the mold or reflection of the model once it’s cleaned out.

Molten bronze, once dried, should stand the test of time, but the society intends to set aside a permanent maintenance fund to care for the sculpture. The surface must be waxed and buffed once or twice a year, Major said.

“It should look good for as long as people do that,” he said.

The finished work will weigh some 1,300 pounds.

In all, the society wants to raise $270,000 and already, half of that has been raised with no publicity, said Regina Payne, the society’s fundraising chair.

Last year, the 12-year-old society secured its 501(c)3 status, making it an independent nonprofit, Payne said. That’s when fundraising took off, she said.

“From the very beginning, this is why the Lincoln Society was born, for this statue,” Payne said. “This is the reason we exist.”

Presented with the Lincoln commission, Major was eager to take it on, calling it “a longtime dream come true.”

“I’ve been fascinated with the subject, with Lincoln, for all of my life,” he said.

Major spent two years touring Lincoln’s 416-mile legal circuit for the Daughters of the American Revolution, restoring site markers, many of them unchanged from Lincoln’s own time.

A Pleasant Hill native, Major commuted to the Dayton Art Institute for six years as a child to learn the basics of art. He and his wife moved to Urbana from Brooklyn in the mid-1970s when he became the first artist-in-residence for the Ohio Arts Council.

“People will come to you if you do good work,” Major said.

For more information, contact the society at To donate, Johnson said supporters can visit in early October.

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