Close’s woodburytypes are not the only artworks linking President Obama to President Lincoln. In 2014, the Smithsonian Institution produced the first-ever 3D portrait of a sitting president, finding inspiration for the project in Lincoln’s life masks. Created in 1860 (one year before Lincoln took office) and 1865 (two months before his assassination), the life masks provide snapshots into the changing face of the president, from a relatively youthful 51-year-old man to an aging president marked by the horrors of the Civil War. To create these sculptures, scholars believe Lincoln’s face and beard were covered in grease, followed by a thin coat of plaster paste. For the next 15 minutes, the president would have to breathe through a straw as the plaster dried. While the process was painstaking, the resulting sculpture captured Lincoln’s exact likeness.
Obama’s 3D portrait was much swifter. He sat still for 90 seconds, enduring one second of flashing light. The data gleaned translated into a master file of about 15 million triangles. Recalling the marble sculptures of presidents past, the 19-inch, 13-pound bust of Obama was printed in pure white. As part of the project, the Smithsonian also 3D-printed Lincoln’s life masks, exhibiting them in the same vitrine as a life mask of President Obama, suggesting a kinship between the two visionary leaders who have helped to shape this nation.