A Special FX Artist Created A Hyper-Realistic Sculpture of Abe Lincoln | by Linda Caroll | History of Yesterday | Jan, 2021
If all you saw were the headshots, you’d swear a photographer somehow traveled 150 years back in time to take photos of the 16th president of the United States of America. It looks that real.
From each angle, the expression seems to change. It’s the magic of silicone, theatrical makeup, human hair, and the astounding skill of a self-taught artist named Kazu Hiro, who build the sculpture layer by layer, from the inside out.
Hiro, who grew up in Kyoto and became an American citizen in 2019, says Lincoln was one of the biggest influences on humanity and America.
He’s not wrong. The C-SPAN Survey ranks the popularity of presidents according to a group of historians and biographers. Abraham Lincoln has taken the highest ranking in every survey to date. Since 1948, he’s also ranked number one in the majority of opinion polls on the top presidents.
“He is one of the biggest influences in humanity and in the history of America” — Kazu Hiro
Lincoln was larger than life, standing six-foot, five inches at his prime, which was astoundingly tall in the 1800s. It’s still tall today and he holds the record for the tallest American president in history.
With his hat on, he’d have been seven feet tall. It wasn’t just fashion, either. Lincoln carried important documents in that stovepipe hat of his.
The funniest part was that his height was all in his legs, so when he sat at a table, he looked the same height as all the other men around it. But when he stood up and unfolded his legs, he towered above everyone.
Hiro’s statue is also six and a half feet tall, although it’s only a bust on a platform. In a wonderful touch of symbolism, the head itself is bigger than life, much like the man.
Despite his height, Lincoln only weighed 180 pounds, however, he was no light-weight. No doubt thanks to his long arms, he was an accomplished wrestler. Defeated only once in 300 matches, he gained a reputation as an elite wrestler with unparalleled strength and is enshrined in the Wrestling Hall of Fame.
He was also known for his wry sense of humor. During the famous Lincoln-Douglas presidential debates, Douglas accused Lincoln of being two-faced. Lincoln paused a moment and then deadpanned: “Honestly, if I were two-faced, would I be showing you this one?”
The artist enlarged public domain photos to more than twice life-size in order to accurately portray the lines on Lincoln’s face and his facial expression.
Before Lincoln was elected President, he received a letter from an eleven-year-old girl named Grace Medell, suggesting he grow a beard. She said:
“A beard would look a great deal better for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President.”
Within a month, Lincoln would be elected President. At his inauguration, he was sporting the famous beard he would become known for.
When Hiro created his hyper-realistic statue, every individual hair in his beard and eyebrows were embedded individually, exactly as real hair grows.
Lincoln was entirely self-educated. His total schooling, obtained from traveling teachers, is estimated to total only around one year. He was an avid reader and taught himself everything he wanted to know by reading books.
After his election to the state legislature, Lincoln wanted to become a lawyer, so he began teaching himself law by reading books. In 1837, he was admitted to the bar and began a career as a successful lawyer.
Somehow, I think good old Honest Abe would have been touched by the idea of a young boy who couldn’t afford college seeing a magazine article and believing he could teach himself. Isn’t the synchronicity just delicious?
Many historians mention that Lincoln suffered from “melancholy” in his later years. Today, melancholy is called depression. Of course, he was depressed.
At age 33, Lincoln married Mary Todd Lincoln. Over the next decade, the couple had four sons. His second son died at age four, likely of tuberculosis and his third son died at the White House of typhoid fever at age twelve.
A loving father that often took his boys to work with him, Lincoln was devastated and never fully recovered from the loss of two of his sons.
When creating the sculpture, Hiro painted the eyeballs separately, by hand, and then installed them into the sculpture. He felt the eyes were crucial to capture the ever-present melancholy in Lincoln’s eyes.
On April 14, 1865, President Lincoln and his wife attended a performance of Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. Lincoln’s bodyguard was seated behind the couple. At intermission, he slipped out of the theatre and joined Lincoln’s footman and coachman for drinks at the Star Saloon next to the theatre.
John Wilkes Booth, a member of a well-known theatrical family, was also at the Star Saloon. When he saw the bodyguard, footman and coachman enter the bar, he knew the president was unattended.
After a little liquid courage, he slipped into the theatre, entered the balcony box, and shot Lincoln in the back of the head with a pistol.
The audience at the play thought the shot was part of the show until they heard Lincoln’s wife screaming hysterically beside her husband, slumped over in his chair. He died from the wound on April 15, 1865, at 7:22 a.m.
He was the first American president to be killed while holding office.
After the assassination, one of Lincoln’s friends, Ward Hill Lamon, shared a dream Lincoln had told him about.
On April 5, 1865, Lincoln dreamed of hearing the subdued sobs of mourners and seeing a corpse lying in the White House East Room. In the dream, he asked the soldier standing guard “Who is dead in the White House?” to which the soldier replied, “The president. He was killed by an assassin.”
Lincoln bolted awake. The dream disturbed him terribly.
Ten days later, he was shot dead by an assassin.
The history of Abraham Lincoln is poignant if you’re American. But Hiro was a little boy growing up in Kyoto, Japan. So why Lincoln?
As a child, Hiro loved making things. He often spent hours at junkyards picking up treasures to make things with. But when high school was done, his options came to an end. He could not afford college.
One day, he came across an issue of Fangoria magazine featuring Dick Smith, the godfather of theatrical makeup. The article was about applying make-up to Hal Holbrook to play Lincoln in a TV mini-series.
Inspired, he scraped together a little money working at a bakery and made a cast of his face to try turning himself into Lincoln. “Which was all the more difficult considering I’m Japanese,” he recalled.