Tiny fingerprints from the hands of young islanders adorn the glass case protecting a 5-foot-tall mixed-media portrait of the nation’s 16th president.
The plywood and veneer Abraham Lincoln encased in a museum-quality display between the Orcas Island Public School library and the cafeteria is by local artist Brook Meinhardt.
“I’m glad because it allows the kids to come right up to it without damaging it,” she said. “I knew when I created him, I did something special, because I feel like there’s life to him. The way the people have responded to him has been amazing.”
Lincoln was purchased by children’s author and art enthusiast Robert Kerstetter, who originally intended to donate it to the library for display. But Meinhardt suggested the school, where she is a teacher for the Art for Orcas Kids program.
“I just feel so blessed that he was so generous as to give it to the school. The fact that even one kid enjoyed it already is a good thing,” she said. “I love teaching art. That’s definitely right after my love of creating the work. The thought of my students seeing this is a really thrilling thing for me. I feel so lucky and excited.”
Meinhardt is an illustrator originally from New York City who made a name for herself by creating portraits out of cardboard as well as drawing artwork for numerous magazines, newspapers and big-name clients like Sephora and Barney’s.
During a trip to Los Angeles, Meinhardt had the opportunity to show her art to architect Frank Gehry, who suggested upscaling her cardboard portraits and using plywood. So she did.
“The first one I made – Louise Nevelson – was an amazing experience. It was just a completely fluid, creative experience,” Meinhardt said. “She’s got magic in her eyes.”
For her second large-scale portrait she chose Lincoln. She wanted to make a bust of someone she felt was important, and had a great face.
“Being the man in the government who abolished slavery is just a big deal to me and to most people, I would think,” Meinhardt said. “So, I went for it.”
Over two to three weeks in 2013 Meinhardt constructed her Lincoln portrait. Though she knew she would use plywood to build the facial structure, she was still unsure of what medium to use to make the skin. That’s when woodworker and teacher Mark Padbury stepped in and suggested 3-ply veneer.
“That was sort of the missing link,” Meinhardt said.
Another obstacle she encountered was what material to implement for Lincoln’s beard. Originally buying several Brillo Pads, she scrapped that idea for broom bristles, then scrapped that idea as well.
“I was at the Exchange and they had this decorative pumpkin that was made out of dried vines. I just immediately thought, ‘That’s his beard,’” Meinhardt said. “I always try to use recycled materials; that’s a big thing for me.”