Downtown Advisory Commission 8/9/18

The Story Abraham Blue

Our vision of “Abraham Blue” to be placed on the Peoria County Courthouse has three purposes. The first purpose is to honor the place that Abraham Lincoln first stood up against slavery in his famous 3 hour long speech that ultimately reinforced the Constitution's claim that “All men are created equal.” That stance was the beginning of his climb to the White House and it began here at the Peoria County Courthouse in October 16, 1854.

The second purpose for “Abraham Blue” is to represent that Lincoln struggled with depression most of his life. Back then the condition was called “melancholia” and was not considered a weakness of character. He once described himself as “the most miserable man on the face of the earth” and spoke of suicide often enough that his friends and neighbors watched over his well being. The support he received from his community of friends is what helped him survive his condition. His openness about his feelings was a cry for help that lessened the stigma of his disease and allowed others to offer help. Our goal is that the image of “Abraham Blue” will serve as a symbol of hope to those suffering from depression and be an encouraging example of the possibility of overcoming this devastating disease.

The third reason for this large public art image is to represent the concept of image itself. Abraham Lincoln was aware of the power of technology in the early days of photography to make the invisible visible. He made himself available to artists, photographers, painters and sculptors to create likenesses of himself for use in campaigning and keeping himself in the public eye even when he was not present. He had a tremendous respect for the power of image making and was one of the first politicians to utilize the arts for spreading his message near and far.

As most of you in this room recognize Peoria has an image problem. It spans a gamut of being the second worse place in America for Blacks, to being the former headquarters of a Fortune 50 company, to a pervasive perception that Peoria is backward and dull. These perceptions might be debatable, but the underlying foundational problem is that our community needs to do a better job of branding ourselves as the place we actually are and the place we strive to become. To that end Abraham Blue is a very large and very present symbol of using the arts to overcome adversity and transform ourselves into a thriving and vibrant community.

“Abraham Blue”

Artist Statement

by artists Doug & Eileen Leunig

Images of Lincoln abound everywhere in Illinois from the five-dollar bill we pull out of our pocket to buy a cup of coffee to the copper coins we put in the change jar to the license plate on the car in front of us. Lincoln is omnipresent, so it’s not unusual to see an image of Lincoln. What is unusual is to see his face 50-feet tall and blue.

“Abraham Blue” honors Lincoln the hero and Lincoln the man. The larger-than-life hero is deserving of the larger-than-life mural that will be hung on Peoria County Courthouse. Lincoln is remembered in history as the hero who impacted the course of our nation enduring public ridicule, political pressure, and strong arming by adversaries and allies. He resisted all that to create a better life for people who have been enslaved.

Lincoln as a hero emulates what we believe most of us hope resides in our own selves. The ability to rise to the occasion to face an insurmountable burden and find the strength within ourselves to persevere. To withstand pain, hatred, and alienation because we have a passion that must be answered. That was Lincoln, the larger-than life hero.

Lincoln as a man wasn’t quite so perfect. Lincoln wasn’t an abolitionist, but he sincerely believed slavery was morally wrong and and he announced his views in a three-hour speech in Peoria in 1854.

As a man, Lincoln also suffered greatly from depression. He once called himself the most miserable man in the world. Abraham Blue is a dark and brooding image created by the Leunigs to raise awareness about depression and mental health issues. The likeness of Lincoln was taken from a five dollar bill.

“Abraham Blue” as public art is intended to elicit dialog and open conversation about depression and remove its stigma. It’s intended to encourage discussion about what we value in our leaders and what we value in our community. “Abraham Blue” represents our community’s ability to face adversity and rise above it to create a future that is better for all.

Initially the image that became Abraham Blue was part of a series of images taken from currency titled “Face Value.” The original was flesh colorized to match all of the other U.S. currency bills including the rarely seen Thomas Jefferson two dollar bill.

On October 18, 2008 we changed Lincoln's image into “Abraham Blue” following our experience with the first time we participated in Whitney's Walk during the last Saturday in July. Whitney's Walk is an organization established to increase depression awareness and suicide prevention. The experience of walking with thousands of other people whose lives had been touched by suicide was an eye and heart opening experience for Eileen and I. It was very apparent that the love expressed by families and friends walking together and openly sharing about the loss of their loved ones was a cathartic and healing action to balance their grief.

The money raised by individuals through crafts, cook-offs, and auctions is all put toward depression awareness and suicide prevention programs.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.

Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among those ages 15 to 24.

Since 2004, Whitney's Walk for Life has raised over $1.3 million for LOCAL suicide prevention programs!

YOU become part of the solution through your support of Whitney’s Walk for Life!

Like Susan B. Komen a movement begins with one person at a time. Grassroots movements can grow like weeds and things like Whitney's Walk for Life might put in roots in Central Illinois and grow bigger.

Created By
Doug & Eileen Leunig


Big Picture Initiative

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