|Sarah Fisher Clampitt Ames ( 1817 - 1901 )
|h. 35 x w. 25.25 x d. 13.5 in. (h. 88.9 x w. 64.1 x d. 34.3 cm)
|U.S. Senate Collection
Frustratingly little is known about the life and career of Sarah Fisher Ames. Born Sarah Clampitt in Lewes, Delaware, she moved at some point to Boston, where she studied art. She spent time in Rome, but whether she studied formally there is not known. Wife of the portrait painter Joseph Alexander Ames, she produced at least five busts of President Lincoln, but the circumstances of their production are not well documented. While Ames was able to patent a bust of the 16th president in 1866, the drawings were later destroyed in a U.S. Patent and Trademark building fire.
As a nurse during the Civil War, Ames was responsible for the temporary hospital established in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. One source reports that through this position she knew Lincoln “in an intimate and friendly way,” but she also might have met the president through her activity as an antislavery advocate. 1 Regardless of the origin of their association, it likely led to formal sessions with Lincoln, in which Ames was able to sketch, and perhaps model, his features.
Author Mary Clemmer Ames (no relation to the artist) compared one of the sculptor’s renderings of Lincoln with Vinnie Ream’s full-length statue of the president in the Capitol Rotunda:
Mr. Lincoln’s living face was one of the most interesting ever given to man.... Mrs. Sarah Ames, in her bust of Lincoln...has transfixed more of the soul of Lincoln in the brow and eyes of his face than Miss Ream has in all the weary outline of her many feet of marble.... But any one who ever saw...his living humanity must thank Mrs. Ames for having reflected and transfixed it in the brows and eyes of this marble. 2
This effusive praise by Mary Clemmer Ames is not entirely unwarranted. The head of the Senate bust of Lincoln is serene and poised, the gaze level, and the whole work is finely idealized. The pupils of the eyes are only lightly drilled, lending a slight remoteness to the face, and the toga associates Lincoln with the greatly admired Roman republic.
In 1868 the Joint Committee on the Library purchased this bust of Lincoln from Sarah Fisher Ames for $2,000 for the Capitol. The Massachusetts Statehouse, Williams College Museum of Art, and the Lynn Historical Society–-all in Massachusetts–-and the Woodmere Art Museum in Pennsylvania hold additional busts of the president by Ames.
Other known works by the artist include a plaster bust of U.S. Grant, which was exhibited at the 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition, and busts of American diplomat Anson Burlingame and railroad engineer Ross Winans. Ames died in 1901 in Washington, D.C.
1. Rufus Rockwell Wilson, Lincoln in Portraiture (New York: Press of the Pioneers, 1935), 179.
2. Mary Clemmer Ames, Ten Years in Washington: Life and Scenes in the National Capital, as a Woman Sees Them (Hartford, CT: A.D. Worthington, 1873), 112.
Abraham Lincoln, 16th president of the United States, guided the nation through its devastating Civil War and remains much beloved and honored as one of the world's great leaders. Lincoln was born in Hardin (now Larue) County, Kentucky. He moved with his family to frontier Indiana in 1816, and then to Illinois in 1830. After serving four terms in the Illinois legislature, Lincoln was elected as a Whig to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1846. He did not seek reelection and returned to Springfield, Illinois, where he established a statewide reputation as an attorney. Although unsuccessful as a Whig candidate for the U.S. Senate in 1855, Lincoln was the newly formed Republican Party's standard-bearer for the same seat three years later. In that race, Lincoln captured national recognition by engaging Democrat Stephen A. Douglas in a dramatic series of public debates, but Lincoln ultimately lost to Douglas on election day.
In 1860 Lincoln was elected the nation's first Republican president. By the time of his inauguration in March 1861, seven Southern states had seceded from the Union, formed their own separate government, and inaugurated Jefferson Davis as its president. Concerned with preserving the Union from dissolution, Lincoln presented an inaugural address that was conciliatory in nature, assuring that slavery would not be abolished where it then existed. But one month later, when Confederate forces opened fire on Charleston's Fort Sumter while Congress was in recess, Lincoln acted decisively. He called up the militia; proclaimed a blockade; and suspended the writ of habeas corpus, which ensures a citizen's right to be brought before a court before imprisonment. The war that ensued lasted for four years, during which time Lincoln assumed greater executive power than any previous U.S. president.
Of all Lincoln's actions during the Civil War, he is perhaps best remembered for the Emancipation Proclamation, which he issued on January 1, 1863. Although it did not abolish slavery nationwide, it put slaveholders on notice and gave the conflict an undeniable moral imperative. When Lincoln was reelected in 1864, the war's end was in sight, and the president urged leniency toward the Southern states. His plan for postwar reconstruction advocated the forming of new state governments that would be loyal to the Union, a plan later adopted by President Andrew Johnson. Lincoln's presidency ended abruptly when he was shot by John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865, in Washington, D.C.'s Ford's Theatre. Lincoln died the following day.