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Presidents' Day Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

15 February 2016

Quite a weekend, wasn't it? We could all use a day off, don't you think? Except for this holiday note, we plan to take one. We'll call it Presidents' Day, in honor of a couple of chief executives who must have rolled over in their graves this weekend.

As we wrote two years ago in Two Portraits On Presidents' Day, George Washington's portraits were painted while Abraham Lincoln's were photographed. We admired, in that essay, Rembrandt Peale's artistry before beautifying Lincoln's mug shot with Anthropics Pro. Lessons in portraiture.

Today, though, in the dysfunctional spirit of the times, we thought we'd present a George Eastman Museum video on The Abraham Lincoln Plate Negative:

In just five minutes Grant Romer discusses George Eastman House's conservation of the museum's famous Lincoln glass plate negative.

It's an image of Lincoln before he was President, one of his favorites. "That looks better and expresses me better than any I have ever seen," Lincoln said. "If it pleases the people, I am satisfied."

William Herndon, who was Lincoln's law partner, expressed a more detailed appreciation of the portrait. "There is a peculiar curve of the lower lip, the lone mole on the right cheek, and a pose of the head so essentially Lincolnian," he said. "No other artist has ever caught it."

It was one of three taken in the late 1850s by Alexander Hesler. The Smithsonian has one of the originals, but the glass was shattered when the original glass plate was mailed in a more innocent age.

What the George Eastman House has is a copy of that glass negative, but it too is broken. "It's literally a puzzle," Romer says. Solving the puzzle requires repairing it but conservation requires it be repaired in a way that can be undone.

That would call for your favorite image editing software, we think, rather than Super Glue. But it's complicated. You need someone who knows about glass negatives and adhesives.

Don't worry, all the President's men and all of his horses do manage to put young Mr. Lincoln back together again at the end of the clip. And here's an even nicer reconstruction.

If only it were as easy to restore every precious thing that shatters.

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