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Monday, July 15, 2024

Wax Effigy of President Abraham Lincoln Melts Down Due to Heat

A wax statue of Abraham Lincoln melted in Washington DC's heatwave, highlighting the growing impact of climate change.

Washington, DC’s recent heatwave saw an unexpected victim—a wax effigy of President Abraham Lincoln. Installed outside Garrison Elementary School as part of the Wax Monument Series by Virginia-based artist Sandy Williams IV, the 6ft, 3,000lb wax statue began melting over the weekend. The intense heat caused the head to fall off, a leg to drip from the torso, and a foot to turn into a blob. The statue, a candle as well, had melted significantly, leaving behind a wire sticking out of Lincoln’s neck.

Historical Significance and Community Engagement

The statue’s location, Camp Barker, holds historical significance as a Civil War-era refugee camp that housed formerly enslaved and freed African Americans. This site, now home to an elementary school, serves as a poignant backdrop for Williams’ installation. The artist intended the replica to be more than just a statue; it was designed to be a candle with strategically placed wicks. A plaque instructs viewers to “Please blow out your wick within 1-2 minutes.”

Williams’ 40 ACRES Archive series, which includes wax replicas of public monuments and cultural symbols, aims to create “moments of communal catharsis” by uncovering “hidden legacies in common spaces.” The first version of the statue, installed last September, also faced melting issues when over 100 wicks were prematurely lit, causing significant damage before the dedication ceremony. The new version, installed in February, reduced the number of wicks to prevent such incidents.

Art Meets Environment

The melting of the wax statue serves as a “direct commentary on DC’s history of Civil War-era Contraband Camps,” highlighting the history of the site and engaging the community in a dialogue about the past. Williams’ project, commissioned by non-profit CulturalDC, reflects on the transient nature of monuments and the impact of environmental changes. The artist remarked, “I always joked that when the climate got worse, and we were living in weather hot enough to melt these sculptures, that this work would then become environmental art. I did not expect for that day to be this past weekend.”

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The wax head is set to be reattached this week. The sculpture is scheduled to remain at the school until September 30, but Garrison Elementary’s principal will decide whether to remove it early. CulturalDC noted in a project update, “Our staff has purposely removed Lincoln’s head to prevent it from falling and breaking. We can’t guarantee he’ll be sitting up straight for the months ahead, but who really will be?”

Reflecting on History and Change

The Wax Monument Series by Sandy Williams IV not only commemorates historical figures but also invites the public to interact with and alter these representations, reflecting the ever-changing nature of history and memory. Williams’ work challenges traditional notions of monuments as eternal and unchanging. By creating wax versions of famous monuments, the artist empowers the public to engage with these forms, which are normally untouchable.