Arts & Culture

Remembering “Lincoln”

Join us on October 21 for a celebration of the sculpture.

an iron sculpture on the lawn with deCordova in the back ground

The beloved sculpture, Lincoln departs deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum at the end of this month for its next chapter. In celebration, we sawt down with artist DeWitt Godfrey to hear his thoughts on the piece. Join us for deeper conversation on Saturday, October 21.

Member Day

Can you share how “Lincoln” came to be?

In 2006, I completed a project in the courtyard of the Café Pamplona in Cambridge, MA as part of an innovative traveling public art exhibition Public Art Moving Site organized by the Cambridge Arts Council, RAMP in Bellows Falls, VT, and ArtsSpace in New Haven, CT. That project was well received and a curator at deCordova contacted me about doing a project there. Discussions ensued, but the 2008 recession put those conversations on an indefinite hold. A few years later, I was getting ready to take a sabbatical and reached back out to deCordova. My timing was fortuitous, Nick Capasso had recently been named Director and a gift had come in to make some changes in the sculpture park.

Was this commissioned as a site-specific piece

Nick invited me to come out and look at the grounds, and make a proposal. I sent back a set of mostly modestly scaled sculptures, things I was confident I could manage and that I hope had interesting relationships primarily to the terraces and buildings. Encouragingly, Nick asked me back for more conversation. As I remember it, he politely reviewed what I had sent but then suggested we go outside. We walked out across the lawn (where Lincoln is now) and where the Fletcher Benton stood then. Nick stopped, waved his arm across the entire width of the space, from the tree line at the bottom up to the terrace wall, and said “What about here?” “Here?” I said “Yes” he said, “The whole thing?” I gulped, eyes widening, “Yes” Nick smiled, “The whole thing.” Nick wanted to make some dramatic changes to the park, which had been pretty static for a number of years; he needed a grand gesture and he had the vision, confidence that I could rise to the opportunity, and committed the resources that made Lincoln possible.

The sculpture was many orders of magnitude larger than anything we had done before (and I believe it’s still the largest work ever commissioned for deCordova). This was in the fall of 2011. After an intense period of design, recycling earlier works (including elements of Pamplona in Cambridge), and fabricating new cylinders, Lincoln was installed the following summer. Lincoln is one of those projects where everything comes together just right: the right moment, the right piece, a great site, and right leadership that supported such an ambitious undertaking.

detail DeWitt Godfrey - Lincoln (snow) (square)

What have you enjoyed most about having a long-term sculpture in the Park?

I think the warm affection and embrace Lincoln has earned from visitors to the museum and the community over the past decade will be my fondest memories. I have heard from many people how sad they are to see it go, how much they and their families have enjoyed the work, and the role it has played in many weddings on the deCordova grounds! Working in architectural scale, in public spaces, you never know how a work will be received or what unexpected ways it will be used by people. Lincoln is my most photographed and well-known work, I am very grateful to deCordova but also a little sad to see it come to an end.

How has your relationship with the piece changed, or evolved over the years?

In some ways Lincoln was the culmination – literally and figuratively – of a body of work that commenced around 2002, where a changing, expanding set of cylindrical forms were arrayed in multiple locations and arrangements, shaped equally by their contexts as by their individual structure and form.

For Lincoln we needed virtually every cylinder we had built to that point plus we had to fabricate an entirely new set so we could fill that space as intended. That summer of 2012 we also started in a new direction, supported by a grant from the Picker Interdisciplinary Science Institute at Colgate University, a collaboration with mathematicians, computational designers, and engineers creating tools that allow us to arrange the circular elements on complex, curved surfaces, beyond the linear structure of Lincoln. Since then, we have used and refined this new digital design and fabrication tools on a number of permanent commissions throughout the United States.

a couple pose in front of metal sculpture with a blue sky in the background

What is next for “Lincoln”?

While I cannot yet divulge the exact location, we are looking forward to refurbishing and refreshing the 80 cylindrical elements of Lincoln for a completely new arrangement in a very different landscape. Like the various projects we aggregated to create Lincoln, we will rearrange and redeploy Lincoln’s elements in an exciting new configuration.

What are you working now? Is there anything else you would like to share?

We recently completed two major public projects, Beken, at Alameda Point Waterfront Park in Alameda, CA and Atlas for the new consolidated rental car and parking facility at the Portland International Airport (PDX) in Portland, OR. We are excited about two new projects, in Rockland County, NY and Little Rock, AR that use a new, continuous ribbon typology that we developed from the packed geometries that had their origins in Lincoln.

Thank you for the opportunity to share my recollections about Lincoln as we prepare for its next manifestation. Join us on

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