STOCKBRIDGE — For more than a century, a mini-replica of Daniel Chester French's 1912 "Standing Lincoln" statue — it's permanently sited at the Capitol in Lincoln, Neb. — has been on display on Main Street in Stockbridge.
When the old Williams Academy and Stockbridge High School building was taken down and replaced in 1913, the graduates wanted to see a memorial in the new building. They gathered $1 donations to purchase the statue directly from French for $165, giving it a home in the new school (now the Stockbridge Town Offices).
At the dedication of the building in January 1914, one of the gifts presented was the Lincoln statue, given by "The Graduates and Friends of the Old School." It stood silent sentry there for 54 years.
But, in 1968, after the high school closed but the building remained as the Stockbridge Plain School for younger students, the 3-foot-high bronze statue was acquired by the Williams High School Alumni Association, which loaned it to the nearby Stockbridge Library, Museum & Archives. The loan agreement became official in 1979.
Now, the association — it's 480 strong — has gifted the artwork to the library, where it is on display in the original Jackson Wing, just past the circulation desk.
The acquisition was announced this month by the library, after the deed-signing Jan. 24 by association President Lawrence Tonini.
"The Stockbridge library has been a good and conscientious steward of our statue over the last 40 years," said Patricia E. Flinn, secretary of the association and a volunteer in the History Room of the Stockbridge library. The donation had been approved by the association's executive board in October 2017 and was ratified at the Williams High School Alumni Banquet in September 2018.
In a phone interview, Flinn pointed out that the original loan agreement "had a series of conditions," including one with "problematic, nebulous wording" about the statue's final disposition "at a time in the future" when the alumni association no longer exists.
"When we saw the wording, it spurred us on to do something now rather than leave it to guesswork," she said. "We felt that while the association was still alive and active, we should go ahead and gift it now so it wouldn't be problematic in the future."
But, one condition of the original loan agreement was clear — wherever the statue resided, it should be on view, Flinn noted.
"It's so iconic; being the president Lincoln was and the sculptor that French was, nobody could ever hide it away in a closet," she emphasized. "In the cover letter for the gift to the museum, we stated our hope that it would be on public display forever.
"Wherever it is, it makes the room peaceful just by looking at it," Flinn said.
A full-size working model of "Standing Lincoln" remains on view outdoors at the Chesterwood Museum in Stockbridge, which reopens for the season May 23.
The statue, also known as The Gettysburg Lincoln, was commissioned by the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Association in Lincoln in 1909 and unveiled three years later. The new capital city, formed after Nebraska was granted statehood in 1867, was named for Lincoln four years after he was assassinated in 1865.
French used much of his research for the statue, including a study of Mathew Brady's photographs and a copy of Leonard Volk's plaster life mask of the president, to create his 1920 Lincoln statue at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.
Clarence Fanto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.