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A Nose Waiting to Be Rubbed

A refurbished Lincoln bust will make a guest appearance at the Spurlock Museum.

Lincoln bust

Fans of the Lincoln bust in Lincoln Hall won’t have to wait until the building reopens in 2012 to rub its nose for luck. Beginning on February 20, the restored bust will greet visitors to U of I’s Spurlock Museum. The display will afford visitors a rare 360-degree view of the bust and will also offer the chance to restart an old tradition.

“What it looks like now is what it looked like in 1929,” says Wayne Pitard, director of the Spurlock Museum, referring to the spotless bust now locked away in the museum’s storage vault. After spending several months with a restorer in Chicago, the bust is now free of the chips, nicks, and scratches that have accumulated over the past 80 years. Also gone, reluctantly, is the shine on Lincoln’s nose.

“We couldn’t fix the damage without also redoing the nose,” explains Pitard of the decision to tamper with a campus tradition. “In the dim light of Lincoln Hall people didn’t see the extent of the damage.... It was quite beat up, and if we did not restore it, within another 15 to 20 years, it would look seriously defaced.”

Herman Atkins MacNeil modeled the bust in 1928 from a full-size statue he had made 14 years earlier. He gave the bronze bust a brown patina, which had worn through most noticeably on the nose where decades of students had rubbed it for good luck before a mid-term or final exam.

The exposed bronze on the nose is not what concerned Pitard and other preservationists, however. There were more disfiguring scars, many of which may be attributed to the night in 1979 when pranksters kidnapped the bust and mounted it on a tree stump at a local golf course. “It’s heavy,” says Pitard, “and maybe they dropped it.”

visit the Lincoln Hall Project website

Improper cleaning techniques also took a toll, as did attempts to paint the area behind the bust after the bust was cemented into place following the kidnapping.

“The bust falls into the category of public art—something meant to be touched,” says Christa Deacy-Quinn, the collections manager at Spurlock Museum who recommended the restoration. “Lincoln pieces, in particular, have a tradition of touching, which means they will periodically need to be refurbished.”

Rather than a loss, Pitard hopes that students and alumni will see the restored Lincoln as an opportunity to start the tradition anew, beginning while the bust is on display at Spurlock. “Thus it is the duty of the next generation of U of I students to begin the process of rerubbing the nose to make it shiny once again.”

The connection between the Lincoln bust and the Spurlock Museum, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary next year, is a natural one. The museums that eventually became the Spurlock Museum were located on the fourth floor of Lincoln Hall for most of their existence. Two of them—the Museum of Classical Archaeology and Art and the Museum of European Culture—were there for 88 years, opening even before Lincoln Hall was officially dedicated.

By Holly Korab
Winter 2011