The Weirdest Statues of the American Presidents


From the weirdly sexy to the outright terrifying

All statues are a little unsettling to begin with, with the way their cold, soulless eyes reflect your inner desolation. Or maybe that’s just me. But these statues of the presidents are some of the strangest I’ve ever come across.

#1 George Washington by Horatio Greenough

Greenough’s sculpture on the Capitol lawn circa 1899, photo by Frances Benjamin Johnston

This behemoth George Washington was created in 1840 for the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C. Seeing The Father of His Country as a shirtless Zeus was a bit much for that venue (one critic said it looked like he was reaching for a towel after a bath) and it was eventually moved to The Smithsonian Museum of American History.

Today this chiseled god sits just down the hall from the beloved Muppet monster Elmo, and together they maintain the balance of the universe.

#2 Canova’s Washington

Two decades before Greenough created his Greek god, North Carolina commissioned their own ripped Greco-Roman Washington from renowned Italian artist Antonio Canova. As part of a study for the massive statue, Canova made a 30” nude Washington.

Photo by Franco Coin.

Canova’s final product, a massive Roman-garbed statue of Washington writing his farewell address, was finished in 1821 to great acclaim. Just ten years later, a fire consumed the State Capitol and the sculpture was destroyed. The closest thing we have to the original is the artist’s full size plaster preparatory piece which never left Italy. Until now.

Jefferson agreed that Roman garb would be a more timeless choice for the statue, saying “our boots and regimentals have a very puny effect.”

Canova’s little nude and the replica are on exhibit right now for the first time in America at the Frick Museum in New York. It’s a rare opportunity to see a very different side of George.

#3 The Young Lincoln by Charles Keck

This Young Lincoln statue in Senn Park in Chicago seems to commemorate the moment in 1945 when the artist Charles Keck thought, “Let’s make a young, sexy Lincoln.”

He was not alone.

#4 Young Lincoln by James Hansen

Another young Lincoln, and this one is too busy thinking about reading to put on a shirt.

This lithe young Lincoln looks like he’s about to emancipate himself.

Artist James Hansen entered this design into a Public Works contest in 1940 and won $7200. He used the money to buy a car which he then wrecked the next week, presumably because he was distracted thinking about Abe’s abs.

Another copy of the statue exists, in the D.C. Office of Public Records.

This version appears to be next to a thermostat, just in case things get too hot.

#5 Emancipation Memorial by Thomas Ball

This Lincoln statue also involves a shirtless man, but it’s not Lincoln, and it’s not sexy. It’s just sad.

Thomas Ball’s Emancipation Memorial in Washington, D.C. was paid for by freed slaves and intended to honor Lincoln’s role as the “Great Emancipator.” Somehow that message of freedom got lost in this portrayal of Lincoln lording over a cowering, shackled slave.

#6 Presidents Park Busts by David Adickes

A field in Croaker, Virginia hosts the dilapidated remains of 43 presidential busts weighing as much as 10 tons each. They were created by sculptor David Adickes for the now-defunct Presidents Park in Williamsburg, Virginia.

There is something hauntingly beautiful about them in their current state, like David Cronenberg meets David Lynch meets David McCullough. If I ever win the lottery, you can look forward to seeing these in the world’s greatest miniature golf course.

Woodrow Wilson deteriorating. Photo by Pablo Iglesias Maurer/DCist

#7 Life mask of Thomas Jefferson by John H. I. Browere

In 1825, artist John H. I. Browere tried to make a life mask of Jefferson’s face, and it almost became a death mask. The plaster hardened too quickly and nearly suffocated Jefferson. He was unable to call out for help but managed to grab a chair and slam it against the floor, getting the attention of a slave who saved his life.

Looking at the finished product, you can see how utterly perturbed Jefferson was at the thought of going out like that.

#8 Wax figures from The Hall of Presidents and First Ladies, Gettysburg, PA by Ivo Zini and others

John Adams is very upset with you and also needs to eat your soul.

These wax figures made a big splash in 2017 when The Hall of Presidents and First Ladies in Gettysburg, PA closed its doors and put them up for auction. The treasure trove of terror was quickly snatched up by collectors and late night hosts like Stephen Colbert and John Oliver.

Remember young Lincoln? Here’s what he looks like now. Feel old yet?

#9 City of Presidents in Rapid City, South Dakota

Downtown Rapid City, South Dakota home to some very charming statues of the US presidents. My favorite is sculptor James Michael Mayer’s George W. Bush, and the strangest thing about him is his location.

This happy-go-lucky terrier carrier reminds me of Dorothy skipping down the Yellow Brick Road, if the Yellow Brick Road were Rapid City’s Saint Joseph Street and the Emerald City were Hardee’s.

Hardee’s, you’re doing a heck of a job.

#10 World’s Largest Reagan by Patrick Miller

Oil tycoon Patrick F. Taylor had a dream to build the world’s largest Ronald Reagan statue in Covington, Louisiana. He died before he could achieve that dream, but his foundation kept that dream alive and now Covington is home to the world’s largest statue of Ronald Reagan and there’s nothing you can do about it. Unless you want to build an even bigger one somewhere else, and who am I to stand in your way?

This ten foot tall Reagan statue is saluting you from atop a pedestal that may have been placed upside down.

#11 Baywatch Reagan

Artist’s conception of planned Ronald Reagan statue. (Fine Art Studio of Rotblatt-Amrany)

This piece doesn’t actually exist yet, but the town of Dixon, Illinois wants to erect a statue commemorating Reagan’s time as a lifeguard there in the 1920s where he reportedly saved 77 lives.

The artistic rendering above doesn’t do justice to what Reagan actually looked like then.

Ronald Reagan in 1927

I say why not top Patrick F. Taylor’s Louisiana statue and go back to the ancient Greek theme? Use this photo as the basis for a modern Colossus of Rhodes, towering fifty feet over the Rock River. You can even make it a playground where kids can climb up Reagan’s legs and swing into the river from the legholes of his unitard. It’s morning in America, Dixon. Dream big.

12. Burning Man Obama by Liu Bolin

Chinese artist Liu Bolin said his literally flaming bust of Barack Obama represented how Obama was “so hot right now, so I wanted to translate that through my work.”

I can’t tell if he’s serious.

Artist Liu Bolin warming his hands by his artwork.

I really don’t know if this guy loves Obama, hates him, or just thinks fire is cool.

13. Indecline’s “The Emperor Has No Balls”

The era of portraying America’s leaders as Greek gods with abs for days seems to be behind us.

The meaning of activist artist collective Indecline’s “The Emperor Has No Balls” series of sculptures is anything but ambiguous. Versions of the poorly-endowed naked Trump were placed in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Cleveland, and Seattle on August 18, 2016 until police took them away.

One of the statues sold at auction for $22,000, but I don’t think it’s fair to judge art on its price.

The important thing is how it makes you feel.

Did I leave out your favorite weird presidential statue? Let me know in the comments!

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10 Comments

  1. July 2, 2018 / 4:45 am

    The Canova piece is plaster, not plastic.

    • Howard Dorre
      Author
      July 2, 2018 / 6:35 am

      Thanks for catching that! It is now corrected. Canova would have been quite ahead of his time!

  2. August 30, 2018 / 4:19 pm

    The beauty of blogging is that we, through the eyes of others, can experience things like the oddest statues of US Presidents. I appreciate your bringing things like this to our attention.

    • Howard Dorre
      Author
      August 30, 2018 / 8:21 pm

      Thank you!

  3. August 30, 2018 / 6:27 pm

    Fascinating posting. Presidential history is always interesting and a little humor makes it more fun to read.

    • Howard Dorre
      Author
      August 30, 2018 / 8:20 pm

      I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for reading!

  4. August 31, 2018 / 5:29 am

    Totally weird! I got a kick out of it.

  5. September 2, 2018 / 4:19 am

    I really enjoyed reading this!!
    Indirectly gives intending toutists, like me, new sites /hotspots to visit.

  6. September 17, 2018 / 7:32 pm

    I laughed..I cried. Thanks for this – it brought a smile to my face.

    • Howard Dorre
      Author
      September 19, 2018 / 3:40 pm

      Thanks! I try to bring laughter and/or tears wherever I go.

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