Local artist donates painting of Lincoln

Local artist donates painting of Lincoln

Peter Campbell, of Lincoln, is pictured in his home studio beside one of his Abraham Lincoln portraits, titled “Lincoln 1862.” Campbell has donated a life-size portrait of Lincoln to Town Hall. (Breeze photos by Nicole Dotzenrod)

LINCOLN – A life-size painting of the town of Lincoln’s namesake now adorns the front wall of the council chambers at Town Hall thanks to a donation from local artist Peter Campbell.

The painting, which depicts Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, is the largest canvas that Campbell has ever done.

“I wanted people to look at Lincoln in a different way, and see him more on a personal basis more than they would in a book,” the artist explained. “He was 6’4”, plus a top hat. This is what he looked like when he was alive. I wanted people to respond to him.”

The former president commanded a presence, as does Campbell’s painting. It will replace an older, much smaller painting of Lincoln that previously hung behind the council bench.

“When you’re painting that big, it’s all in the eyes,” he said. “It really comes down to that.”

While exhibiting some of his Lincoln paintings at the annual Lincoln Forum in Gettysburg, Penn., Campbell said people would hardly believe it when he told them he’s from Lincoln, Rhode Island, named in honor of the former president in 1871. There are 205 cities and towns named Lincoln across the U.S.

“I wanted to share the painting with the town and the people of Lincoln,” Campbell said of his donation.

The donated piece is one of several portraits of “Honest Abe” that Campbell has completed over the years, coupled with dozens of other contemporary American portraits depicting various figures throughout U.S. history, from Geronimo to Amelia Earhart to Harriet Tubman.

A graduate of the Vesper George School of Art in Boston, Campbell has earned more than 20 awards and honors for his work, which has been exhibited in several galleries and personal collections.

While he didn’t work full time as an artist prior to his retirement in 2016, he carved out the time to paint at night while he and his wife Karen raised their three sons.
Racks of paintings are stacked high in his studio, located in his home on Holiday Drive, while inspiration for his artwork – quotes, photos and various figurines – embellish the walls.

At 71, Campbell said he has no plans to stop painting.

“Art is almost like an addiction … like something you have to do. I’ve painted most of my life and I love doing it,” he said.

Along with his contemporary American portrait series, his themes include urban landscapes influenced by the work of Edward Hopper, seascapes and scenes of the Blackstone Valley, space travel and a large collection of baseball-related paintings and illustrations.

In 1989 he applied and was accepted into the NASA space art program, which invited him to interpret aerospace activities. After creating the piece “Voyage to Venus” depicting the launch of the space shuttle Atlantis – featured in NASA’s permanent art gallery – he used the sketches, photos and information he had gathered to publish his first children’s book called “Launch Day.”

He published a second book, “Alien Encounters,” a collection exploring various compelling extraterrestrial reports, and in 2003 published “Old-Time Base Ball and the First Modern World Series” about the 1903 foundation of America’s favorite pastime.

His subjects and styles vary greatly, from his study of black and white historical photos to his most recent series recreating historic scenes using Playmobil toys, whose homogenized, smiling faces create an almost unsettling effect.

“You have to explore different avenues and ideas as an artist,” he said. “A lot of artists are either a landscape painter or a still life painter, but I kind of get bored with just doing one style over time. I have a lot of interests and passions. I love history, so my big portraits kind of come out of that.”

He’s also unafraid of making political statements about past or current events in his work.

“As an artist I won’t shy away from that,” he said. “This is the world we live in, and it’s important for an artist to also be talking about the times they’re in. It’s hard to avoid having some of that creep into my work.”

Campbell said he hopes to offer a new perspective on different figures and events, inspiring people to “dig a little deeper” and not take things at face value. In one of his paintings, a portrait of Lincoln’s face is painted over in red, white and blue stripes over the word “emancipation.”

“I think Lincoln was the greatest president of all time, there’s no question, but people put him on a pedestal. Sometimes you have to back away and see the real person,” he said. “People respond to the faces. You get to see people like Lincoln in a more personal way.”

Campbell said he hopes the painting at Town Hall, which is on permanent donation, will remain there for the residents of Lincoln for years to come.

Lincoln resident Peter Campbell’s 7-foot Abraham Lincoln portrait now hangs in the Town Council chambers at Lincoln Town Hall.


Thank you very much for this generous donation. It is magnificent!