Courtesy: GSA

Young Lincoln

Los Angeles, California

James Lee Hansen

U.S. Courthouse, 312 North Spring Street, Los Angeles, California, 90012
Owner:  Fine Arts Collection, U.S. General Services Administration
Date:  1941
Placement:  courthouses
Collection:  US General Services Administration
Artwork Type:  sculpture (visual work)
Material:  limestone, granite (rock)
Description:  The circumstances surrounding James Lee Hansen's creation of his sculpture Young Lincoln was described in an article published in the Los Angeles Times on March 13, 1941: If Abraham Lincoln could have had anything to say about the choice of an artist to carve his latest heroic statue, he probably would have been pleased with James Lee Hansen, young Los Angeles sculptor. For one thing, Hansen, 23, is as as unassuming as they come. For another, he has known what it is to scrape the bottom of the barrel in the grim effort to get enough to eat.

Also because when success finally came—for Hansen this was the winning of a national contest for a heroic sculpture of the Great Emancipator—it didn’t take away his innate humility and modesty.

And perhaps, lastly, for the fact that Hansen cares not a snap of his skilled fingers for pomp and ceremony.

This last was evident yesterday when Hansen’s 8-foot statue of Lincoln was “unveiled” in the Main St. foyer of the Federal Building.

There wasn’t any unveiling ceremony—they simply brought in the huge figure and set it on a pedestal, and let it go at that.

Hansen showed up with a fistful of files with the prosaic intention of smoothing off some of the rough edges on the limestone figure, and was somewhat flustered by the arrival of news photographers and reporters.

The young sculptor, a native of Fresno, had come downtown from his combination studio and apartment at 2122 Hyperion Ave.

And this is how he happened to have anything to do with yesterday’s unceremonial ceremony:

A year ago last August he was a student at a local art school, but was discouraged and dissatisfied with his progress. He was on the point of departing for New York to seek some art commissions to keep the wolf from his studio door.

A friend asked, “Why don’t you enter that government competition for a statue at the new Federal Building?”

“I don’t know,” Hansen replied, “I’ve only done one piece of sculpture in my life.”

He was interested, however, and checked up—only to find that the contest, under way for several months, closed for the model entries in a week. Hansen got a supply of plaster and made a small figure of Lincoln. Like the other contestants, he submitted it anonymously to the Fine Arts Section of the Federal Works Agency.

No one was more surprised than Hansen when he was notified his entry has won $7,200 and a commission to do the Lincoln statue. Within a year it was fashioned from Indiana limestone.

The pose shows Lincoln as a young man, wearing only a pair of jeans, with the thumb of one hand hooked in the band of the garment and with a book in the other hand.

Hansen shrugged off observations to the effect that his job had been criticized because Lincoln is shown without a shirt or shoes.

“Well, from a sculpturing standpoint, it’s better to show the body without any clothes,” he explained. “That’s why I left ’em off.”

Information derived from GSA Fine Arts database linked here.

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