I’ve had the honour of working closely with award-winning artist BRUCE K. LAWES for the past couple of years, helping raise awareness of his extraordinary talents, especially in the areas of equine portraiture and large scale Civil War historical re-imaginings. His superb equine paintings are sought after by international art collectors and he has been commissioned for portraits by horse owners, breeders, mustang rescue groups, Olympic equestrians and racehorse trainers, as well as multi-national corporate clients.
Since 2013, Bruce has attended the annual Battle of Gettysburg re-enactments each 4th of July long weekend, painting from his artist’s tent overlooking the battlefield. His work has been featured in both Union and Confederate-themed news as well as local Pennsylvania media, and last year he was featured in a CNN TV report on the 150th anniversary of the famous battle. His resulting portrait of a young Geo. Armstrong Custer (below) joining in the infamous Pickett’s Charge went to auction at the Coeur d’Alene auction of fine art in Reno, Nevada last July and quickly got snapped up by a Civil War art collector. Bruce’s other battlefield paintings have also done extremely well with Gettysburg aficionados.
Next month (on July 25th) Bruce’s work once again goes under the hammer at the Coeur d’Alene where his latest Civil War painting, A New Birth of Freedom (pictured below) a 50” x 40” oil on linen portrait of Abraham Lincoln pondering a brief speech he had just written to be delivered the next day at Gettysburg (now known as The Gettysburg Address), is anticipated to create quite the buzz in the American historical and museum communities.
I recently spoke with Bruce who told me about his creative process, the genesis of his Lincoln portrait and the prestigious endorsement he just received from leading Lincoln expert and award-winning author, Gabor Boritt*
What was you experience like last year at the Coeur d’Alene and what/who introduced your work to the prestigious auction?
BKL: As 2014 was my first time in this internationally renowned auction and, with a relatively untested subject matter for me (George Armstrong Custer) which I felt was done well, the unknown of whether anyone else felt the same was very nerve racking. When I first arrived in Reno, Nevada, the day before the auction and met the gallery and auction representatives, my worry vanished very quickly; they confirmed there had been a lot of interest in my painting and that the owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team was one notable individual who was going to be bidding on my painting.
Did the positive response to your Custer portrait inspire you to explore more historical re-imagining of Civil War milestones or personalities?
BKL: The response to Custer certainly made it desirable to explore other possible historical ideas for a painting that may intrigue a collector.
What first drew you to the Lincoln/Gettysburg Address subject?
BKL: My interest in Lincoln, as with many other people, is his persona and his accomplishments as the most revered President in American history. The significance of the date 2015 is that it represents the 150th anniversary of his assassination, and the Gettysburg Address being the most significant speech in the rebirth of America during the Civil War made it an important subject to paint.
You were given a lot of assistance with the actual location for the painting – the David Wills home – can you tell me who supplied photos and narrative descriptions in order for you to place Lincoln in an authentic setting?
BKL: While consulting my friend J. David (JD) Petruzzi**, award winning Civil War author and historian, as to how to portray Lincoln in a unique authentic setting, we discussed the David Wills House (pictured below) where Lincoln stayed the night before delivering his Gettysburg Address. With the creative and historical minds working together, my decision was to paint him the day before the Address (this painting) and in a second painting showing him during the day of the Address (I’m currently working on that one). The problem that I was faced with was an authentic reference for the bedroom Lincoln stayed in at the Wills house. Fortunately, the house was designated as a museum and the whole house and surrounding buildings in the Square have been maintained as they were back in 1863. JD and his partner, Lincoln historian Cindy Mullins, being from Pennsylvania, they kindly offered to travel to Gettysburg and take reference photos of the bedroom with the guidance of my mental sketch or vision.
You first sculpted a clay bust of the President in order to commence work – how did this help you? Can you explain your painting process?
BKL: As the photography of the day was poor quality and in black and white, I decided to sculpt Lincoln’s bust in order to position him in a pose that best suited my idea and I could also cast the light source accurately to show where shadows would have fallen. I used this 3-D model just as if the President was there in front of me posing for a portrait.
In your mind, who would be the ideal buyer of this Presidential portrait, and why?
BKL: Ideally, I would like the buyer to be a public gallery in order to be seen by the masses so as to continue Lincoln’s legacy – that we may continue to learn from our past mistakes and successes.
Apart from this unique Lincoln painting, what other projects are you working on and at what upcoming shows and sales will your work be featured?
BKL: I am presently working on my painting for the Jackson Hole, WY, auction (www.trailsidegalleries.com) that will be very different from the Lincoln project, as the subject matter this time is wildlife. Also, with the recent history being made with Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah, one of my galleries wants me to paint all three jewels in the crown, so keep watching out for my next creation.
Bruce has received prestigious endorsements for his painting from two leading Lincoln experts :
“President Abraham Lincoln placed the finishing touches on his address on November 18, 1863, the evening before the dedication, while in this second floor bedroom of the David Wills home on Gettysburg’s town square. Lincoln is depicted here at one window overlooking the square, deep in thought as he reviews his papers of simple yet forever poignant words that will come to represent America’s painful process of rebirth during the Civil War. Bruce Lawes’ marvelous and thought-provoking painting captures the beloved 16th president in a timeless way never achieved by any artist”. J. David Petruzzi, Award-winning Civil War author and historian
“Abraham Lincoln has been studied by historians for over a century and, not surprisingly, many choose to focus on the Gettysburg Address just as I did in my book, “The Gettysburg Gospel”. On November 19th, 1863, there were thousands of people waiting to see and hear Lincoln. Some stayed up all night raising quite the ruckus. But in the morning, when the President looked from the Wills House where he stayed, he saw the respectful crowds. And today, in 2015, we have at last found a painter whose artistic skills and talent match that moment in history. Bravo, Bruce Lawes!” Gabor S. Boritt, Emeritus, Robert C. Fluhrer Professor of Civil War Studies, Director of Civil War Institute, Chairman of the Board of The Lincoln Prize
So readers, I encourage you to log on to the Coeur d’Alene website to see this year’s auction offerings (some are expected to sell for well over $1million) http://www.cdaartauction.com/ and please visit Bruce’s own site (currently being re-designed) at www.bklawesart.com You can also follow Bruce on www.Facebook.com/BKLawesart
Good luck, Bruce, we can’t wait to hear how well Abraham Lincoln did in Reno!
*Gabor S. Boritt, Emeritus
Robert C. Fluhrer Professor of Civil War Studies, Director of Civil War Institute and Chairman of the Board of The Lincoln Prize.
His newest book for young people: “The Will of God Prevails, Meditations on God and the Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln”, illustrated, $9.95 is available from Amazon.com
** J.David Petruzzi