George Tice: Is Lincoln Relevant?

By Paula Goldman

George Tice has undertaken a great search for the tangible evidence of the memory of Abraham Lincoln across America. Inspired by Carl Sandburg’s Abraham Lincoln, Tice found Lincoln to be “the ideal man, a model for all men, especially Americans.” Whether Lincoln’s ideal continues to function today becomes the subject of these photographs.

Two-thirds of the beautifully executed 8x10 view camera images present Mr. Lincoln’s likeness as public monument. As a heroic figure in a public place, he is meant to be a reminder to society of greatness achieved through moral integrity. The statues vary greatly. Some are neo-classical in the standard government monument style; others are native. Some have been erected in memory of dead soldiers or individuals, but most seem to honor the memory of Lincoln himself (“with malice toward none”).

The images are carefully and artfully composed. Tice make conscious juxtapositions between the old elegance of the monuments and, in the urban areas, the surrounding decay. The statues are often dwarfed by large buildings and diminished by littler. People are rarely present; the atmosphere is desolate. These statues are anachronistic; is Lincoln an unsuitable symbol in 1984? Honest Abe may truly be forgotten, suppressed by the urban sprawl. In only one situation, in a city park in Chicago, do humans use the statue more than do the birds. Lincoln seems comfortable with a child eating ice cream at his feet.

In Bunker Hill, Illinois, Lincoln is upstaged by a Shell Oil sign that is more recognizable than Lincoln himself. In Boston, he looks ridiculous emancipating a kneeling slave in between a 5-hour laundry and the House of Pizza. Photographed from behind, a weary, seated Lincoln covered with graffiti in Newark, New Jersey, gazes across the street toward a Burger King.

The remaining third of the photos show Lincoln’s absorption into popular culture. (Lincoln Cinema, Lincoln Cab, Lincoln-Douglas Savings & Loan, Lincoln Motel with Abe’s Disco). One photo features a Lincoln Auto Center in Lincolnwood, Illinois: “Lincoln was everywhere.”

Tice is enamored with Lincoln’s heroic image, and his prevalence in the nation’s iconography. He views the homages with affection and irony. But the question remains, does Lincoln’s image represent anything to people today? Does Abe’s Disco still conjur up the Emancipation Proclamation in people’s minds? Or is Lincoln just a likeable hero that America fells comfortable with him in all facets of daily life?