Just in time for President’s Day, Alexandria Technical and Community College will showcase original depictions of Abraham Lincoln in its new Gallery300.

"This is going to be, no pun intended, our inaugural event," said Paul Johnson, an instructor in the college’s Communication Art & Design program, who often uses Lincoln in design examples for his students and whose work will be in the exhibit.

Until now, Alexandria has not had a local art gallery. This one will be free and open to the public and feature original work by faculty and students, as well as local artists, K-12 schools, and “you name it,” Johnson said.

Visitors can find the Lincoln exhibit in the college’s 300 wing in the main building, upstairs from the administration offices and the library.

The first exhibit will occupy just part of what the gallery will become. Workers are installing professional-grade gallery bars, made by Alexandria Extrusion, along both sides of about 150 feet of hallway. They will also add track lighting to the hall. The Design Division received a $5,000 grant from the college to create the gallery, and work should be completed by fall, Johnson said.

The college already stands out for its extensive permanent collection of prints of work by well-known artists like Maxfield Parrish, Grant Wood and Michelangelo. However, Gallery300 will display original work that will change frequently. Art work from the Minnesota State High School League will follow the Lincoln exhibit.

A local art gallery has long been a desire of local artists. Linda Gaugert, president of the Alexandria Art Guild, said the guild is continuing to work on a space where artists can display and sell their work, but it welcomes the college’s gallery.

“Since the Alexandria Art Guild's mission is to build and support the artist community in the Alexandria area, we are pleased that there will be a new venue to see art in our town,” she said in an email. “We think it will provide an excellent opportunity for artists and students to display their work.”

The Lincoln exhibit will launch Sunday, Feb. 16, with a reception from 3-5 p.m., and remain through Tuesday, March 31. It will be open whenever campus is open.

Why Lincoln?

Organizers chose Lincoln as a subject matter not just because of the date (Lincoln was born on Feb. 12, 1809, and President’s Day is Monday, Feb. 17), but because Johnson ran into a fellow Lincoln-loving artist in 2019.

That artist, Grady Carlson, invited Johnson to speak to his art students at Moorhead High School. When Johnson went in, he noticed Lincoln images in the classroom and discovered that Carlson also incorporated the 16th president into his work. The two artists decided to collaborate on an exhibit and will supply the 30-something images on display.

Johnson said he always appreciated Lincoln. For a recent typography lesson, he created a sign from a Lincoln quote: “Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” The “u” in “up” makes Lincoln’s beard.

"As a boy, I was a history buff and was interested in the Civil War and of course you naturally go to Lincoln,” he said. “I've always had a respect and love for Lincoln as president."

Lincoln exemplified honor and respect, he said.

“I think of all the things on his plate with a divided nation, yet he was able to be kind to people and bring diverse groups back together."

Carlson said he became intrigued by Lincoln the first time he read his quote, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

“I decided to do a few sketches of his face … then a few paintings … then I was hooked,” he wrote in an email. “I get lost in photographs of his distinctive face. The unique features and beautiful shapes are what keep me coming back to Mr. Lincoln as a subject for my works.”

The exhibit will include the work of both artists in various media and created over many years.

“We're pretty excited about it and I'm honored to be the first one,” Johnson said. “The community really doesn't have an art gallery, per se. We thought this would be the perfect opportunity to embrace the community as the community has embraced the school, to get young and old to tour and take in the arts, especially during these long gray days."