History isn’t Harold Holzer’s only love. Art is a very close second.
The prominent Abraham Lincoln scholar will be at the home of sculptor Daniel Chester French in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Wednesday at 5 p.m. for “Lincoln Speaks,” a series of theatrical readings put together by Holzer and performed by popular actors Jayne Atkinson, Michel Gill and Chris Tucci.
French is the sculptor who designed the Lincoln Memorial back in 1920, and his home in Stockbridge, called Chesterwood, is a National Trust Historic Site and typically on Holzer’s list of summer destinations every year. Along with putting together another Lincoln event — last year’s reading at Chesterwood was the first and was sold out — Holzer announced last week that he is producing a book, not on Lincoln, but on French, and expects it to be published next year.
“He was a brilliant combination of commerce and art,” Holzer said of French, who was born in Exeter, New Hampshire, in 1850 and died in 1931. “He didn’t say very much because he spoke through his statues. He was not a talker, he was not a bragger. He was a real Yankee New Englander who had a fascinating 50-year career between 1875 and 1925.
“Everyone was building bridges and cemeteries during that time, and they needed those monuments to go with them,” added Holzer. “It’s something modern buildings don’t have anymore, but it was an extraordinary period of creativity in classical architecture, and French was a classicist.”
While Holzer has authored, co-authored or edited more than 50 books on Lincoln, Wednesday’s reading will be a bit different.
“I wrote a script using the words of Abraham Lincoln,” said Holzer, who serves as the narrator. “It’s him dealing with a personal, political or military crisis. He’s battling with his wife, he’s battling with George McClellan, or he’s turning to the Bible or Shakespeare for conciliation and council. It is theatrical, and at the end we finish up with what I call his greatest hits, which are excerpts from his most famous speeches.”
So, along with “the better angels of our nature,” and “with malice toward none and charity for all,” Holzer’s production will include some lesser-known Lincoln musings.
“We included some of his ruminations about women, something most people don’t know that much about,” said Holzer, “and there are statements about the Union dissolving and his efforts to get his generals to be more aggressive. That was something that was very frustrating for him.”
Atkinson, a two-time Tony Award nominee whose TV credits include “24” and “House of Cards,” performed in last year’s event, and will be joined this year by Gill, her husband and a fellow actor who has also been on “House of Cards” along with “Donovan” and “Mr. Robot.” Tucci, meanwhile, who has been in “Company Retreat” and “Through the Flowers,” will perform some of Lincoln’s earlier writings.
Along with producing books on Lincoln, Holzer was a senior vice president at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City for 23 years before retiring in 2015. He is now director of The Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College in New York City.
“I decided to retire a couple of years ago just to write books, but then I got an offer to run the Roosevelt House at Hunter College, which was the Trump Tower of 1932-33,” said Holzer. “It’s where FDR made his Cabinet appointments, it’s where he decided to do social security and the New Deal. It’s an amazing historical place, and now we have these amazing students from Hunter College that are studying public policy and human rights. We have some exhibits, some programs and wonderful speakers.”
Holzer, who started his career as a journalist before working for U.S. Rep. Bella Abzug and then-New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, also served as a film consultant for Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” which starred Daniel Day-Lewis as the 16th president. While the movie came out in 2012 and Holzer has watched it numerous times, he never grows tired of catching a glimpse or two when it shows up on TV.
“I do get in the mood to watch it sometimes, and if it’s on HBO I’ll often have it on in the background and then look up and watch the scenes that I really care about,” he said. “You can watch it 25 times and there will still be some nuance you’ll notice by Daniel Day-Lewis that seems fresh. I don’t think anyone has ever come closer than he did in that film to approximating Lincoln.”
Wednesday’s program will be held in what used to be French’s studio. The venue, which includes the life-sized model produced by French for the Lincoln Memorial, seats around 100 people.
WHERE: Chesterwood, home of Daniel Chester French, 3 Williamsville Road, Stockbridge, Massachusetts
WHEN: 5 p.m. Wednesday
HOW MUCH: $50, includes admission to Chesterwood’s buildings and grounds and a post-event wine and cheese reception on the studio piazza
MORE INFO: www.chesterwood.org, or (413) 298-2034