N 1993, the Gage mask was up for sale at an auction in Pasadena, California. Short
was in attendance.
“When the terra cotta came up, it was like I had found what I had been searching
for all that time,” he says. “I knew I’d spend every last penny to buy it.”
Short talks about the acquisition — or the day “when the terra cotta came into my life”
— in almost reverent, perhaps holy, terms. He describes the auction as a room full of mil-lionaires.
He knew he couldn’t compete with such financial heavy hitters, yet somehow he
prevailed; the Lincoln mask was his.
“I didn’t find him, he found me,” Short says. “For some reason, I was able to get it. It was
just one of those things. It was meant for me to have it, for whatever reason. When I got it,
then I was complete; I knew I would never sell it. And I knew I’d have it until I died.”
The mask has held pride of place in Short’s bedroom ever since.
“I have my grandmother’s dresser, with all of the family pictures. My uncles and aunts,
mother and father,” Short says. “And Mr. Lincoln is right in the center of that. That’s how
he’s been in my life all of these years.”
As Short studied the mask, he noticed how Lincoln’s face changed with the light and
“Once a week or so I would turn the Lincoln because it would give me a different view,”
he says. “Sometimes there’s a slight smile on his face, other times you think he’s tearing.
Depending on your mood and the lighting, it’s actually interactive.”
The mask is almost an exact replica of Volk’s original plaster cast. It is Lincoln’s face, pre-inauguration,
before he grew his iconic whiskers. It is Lincoln’s chin, nose, cheekbones and
forehead. It details the president’s asymmetrical face. One side droops a little, perhaps the
result of a childhood illness, historians speculate.
The bust is a direct descend-ant
of a plaster life mask,
made by sculptor Leonard
Volk shortly before
Lincoln’s first presidential
John Short and Clell Hamm with the bronze casting from the terra cotta mask of Lincoln on display at Hamm Hearing Aid Center,
Corp. office for the gallery.