Jubilee to welcome 'Laughing Lincoln' to Naperville
Three years ago, a prominent Naperville family and the city's Century Walk public art group sought ideas to depict a less-than-stern Abraham Lincoln.
Now a Wyoming-based artist is working on a sculpture called "Laughing Lincoln" that will be installed this winter in downtown's Central Park.
To celebrate, members of the Wehrli family and Century Walk Corp. on Sunday will sponsor the Laughing Lincoln Jubilee, an 1830s-themed celebration of the days of old and the artwork of the future.
During the event from 1 to 5 p.m. in Central Park, 104 E. Benton Ave., officials will dedicate the base for the "Laughing Lincoln" sculpture, still in the works by artist David Alan Clark.
The ceremony will preview the dedication scheduled for Dec. 2 of the sculpture itself, which is planned as part of the Illinois bicentennial celebration. The dedication in the park comes immediately before a Birthday Bash and fundraiser for Century Walk, which will be marking the completion of its 50th location of public art since 1996.
The two events culminate the work of Century Walk and the Wehrlis since 2015 to commemorate the late Don Wehrli by highlighting the historical connections between the nation's 16th president and the early days of Naperville.
Don Wehrli was an advocate for protection of land at Central Park, which originally hosted DuPage County's courthouse. And Honest Abe himself may have helped establish Central Park as the county seat when he was a 30-year-old state legislator in 1939.
That year, Naperville town founder Joseph Naper, then a state legislator as well, was pushing to create a new county called DuPage out of nine townships in Cook County, and Lincoln voted against his party to help make that happen. Three years earlier, Naper had voted against his party to support Lincoln's initiative to move the state capitol from Vandalia to Springfield, so some say the votes were a negotiated swap.
The sculpture will depict Lincoln as a 30-year-old lawyer, from a phase of his life when photographs were nonexistent or extremely uncommon. So that plays to Century Walk's favor, Chairman Brand Bobosky says, because it means the artist's bronze depiction of a vivacious Lincoln "can't be wrong."
"We like the 'Laughing' part because we think it'll be unique of all his other sculptures," Bobosky said.
Mary Lou Wehrli, one of Don Wehrli's seven children, said it's been exciting to see both the sculpture and the Jubilee approach reality. She appreciates both the finer historical details of the sculpture, which depict the importance of public land in Illinois' early settlement days, and the lighter side showing Lincoln in an unexpected mood.
"Even though he's telling a funny story and he's just hit the punch line, under his left hand is a document, and that document represents the rights of property," Wehrli said. "This represents the very beginning of the settlement of this area."
Admission to the Laughing Lincoln Jubilee can be free. But to gain access to the central lawn, where beer and wine will be sold and where some games with prizes will be set up, people 21 and older must pay $10 and those younger than 21 will be charged $5.
Games like a penny pitch contest and a high-striker, to hit a target with a mallet and ring a bell, will be inside the admission area, along with a photo opp with a four-foot-tall penny depicting a younger Lincoln's face. Some games come with a $2 fee, and a ride on a Naperville Trolley, which shows about a dozen Century Walk art sites, costs $5.
Activities in the free zone include face-painting and balloon artistry for a $2 fee, and free performances by a juggler, stilt walker, rail-splitter and magician.
Donations will be accepted at three "log banks" adorned with Lincoln Log creations from a local youth's set.
"This a is a very affordable event for families -- from $10 down to free," Wehrli said. "So we're encouraging freewill donations toward 'Laughing Lincoln' and Century Walk."
The organization aims to raise $114,000 to cover the full cost of the sculpture. Additional money will help Century Walk plan for future art.