In two decades as a sculptor and teacher, Frank Porcu has concentrated on art inspired by early Greece and the Renaissance. So when a would-be patron suggested he create a bust of Abraham Lincoln, the Mastic Beach artist initially demurred.
"It was extremely different" than any of his past work, the 40-year-old artist said.
But Porcu eventually sculpted a bronze bust that is receiving raves from historians for its accuracy and how it captures the power of the 16th president's character.
Porcu's Lincoln was officially unveiled Wednesday night at the New-York Historical Society in Manhattan. Historian Harold Holzer, who's written 40 books on Lincoln and spoke at the event, said that Porcu's is the best three-dimensional likeness he's seen created in his 40 years of studying the president.
"It's extremely powerful," Holzer said. "From any angle it reflects both power and sadness, and I think that's what Lincoln was all about."
The sculpture came about after Porcu was introduced to Shawn Thomas, a certified public accountant from Bay Shore who's a longtime collector of historical artifacts.
"I've been looking for a Lincoln sculpture that truly expressed the essence of the man," Thomas said. He thought Porcu could capture the real Lincoln -- proud and determined -- so he offered to pay for the sculpture and the artist's living expenses like a Renaissance patron.
"I said, 'Why? There are so many great Lincolns out there,' " Porcu said. "But he said, 'They don't show who I know Lincoln to have been.' And that was a challenge."
The two collaborated over six months, uninterrupted even when superstorm Sandy left Porcu's house awash in 2 feet of water, forcing him and his wife to live temporarily in Hicksville.
Most sculptors start with a block of clay and cut it away to unveil their vision.
But as a longtime student and teacher of anatomy and medical dissection, Porcu, who is on the faculty of the Graduate School of Figurative Art at the New York Academy of Art, said he envisions a piece from the inside out.
"Each piece of clay is planned in advance, applied, and never touched again," he said.
The bust will be on display at the historical society for two weeks.Thomas isn't sure of where it will go from there. But he and Porcu are already talking about collaborating on a different view of Lincoln or a sculpture of Theodore Roosevelt.