protoTYPING: History Lessons for a Young Girl – and Her Dad

protoTYPING: History Lessons for a Young Girl – and Her Dad

As a father, I believe it is my duty to ruin vacations for my kids.

A day on the beach is no fun; we must visit the botanical garden and learn the names of all the plants. Sleep in and go to the hotel pool? Not a chance. Get your pants on so we can visit ruins and learn some history.

Each summer, I drag my kids 800 miles north to Massachusetts to visit my parents for a few days of family fun crammed full of cultural experiences. We normally drive the 13 hours straight through from North Carolina, but when I found myself with a 3D print of Abraham Lincoln I figured I would take my 5-year-old daughter, Harper, to Washington, D.C. We found that some of the same tools we have to make prototypes in the Enventys Partners shop were used in their analog form to create one of the most recognizable sculptures on Earth.


During my summer breaks in college I worked at a museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, ?called Chesterwood?a beautiful estate that was the summer home and studio of Daniel Chester French (1850-1931). Perhaps best known as the sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial, French was one of the greatest and most prolific realist American sculptors. Though it has been more than a decade since I mowed lawns and cleaned bathrooms at the museum, I still have a great love of the place and for French?s work.

I have wanted to find some way to use my prototyping superpowers to give back and help the museum. So last year I met with the director of the museum, Donna Hassler, and told her I wanted to do a 3D scan and print of one of the sculptures. She loved the idea and gave me a reproduction Lincoln bust to scan. I gave the bust to one of my Union College interns, who used their Faro 3D scanner to get me a 3D file of the old man.

The reproduction of French’s Lincoln bust with the FARO scanner at Union College (right) towers over ?my 3D print.

Once I got the scan, I printed it on my Printrbot 3D printer. I showed Harper; she was as impressed as a 5-year-old could be about a 150-year-old dead president. Then it occurred to me that Harper has never lived a memorable day in her life where she could not ask her dad to 3D print something for her. The Lincoln print was of no greater value than the Jake and the Never Land Pirates gold doubloons I printed for her. I wanted to give her some perspective that the Lincoln print was part of something bigger than the printer from which it was made.

When we got to D.C., I wanted to do at least one kid-friendly activity, so we spent the morning at the National Zoo. After lunch it was time for the torture, and we headed to the National Mall. We got off the Metro and started the mile-and-a-half walk to the Lincoln. (Pro tip: Long walks in the summer sun are a surefire way to wreck a family vacation.)

When we passed the Washington Monument, I stopped on the grass and took out a penny. I showed Harper the tails side of the coin and explained to her that the building on the coin was where we were headed. The fact that they were the same size if you blurred your eyes tells you how much farther we had to walk.

Tails! We still have another mile to walk.

We continued onward; I carried her most of the way. When we finally got there, she finally appreciated how massive the memorial is and how many people were there to see it. I took the 3D print from my pocket to show her how ours was a prototype of the real thing. After soaking it all in for a few minutes and getting the photos that I wanted, we left the memorial and headed back?stopping at the World War II memorial to dip our feet in the fountain. In the early afternoon, we jumped in the car and drove the rest of the way to Massachusetts.

Lincoln, meet Lincoln. My 3D print meets its father.

I gave her a couple of days off from the history lessons before spending a delightful afternoon at Chesterwood to see the process of how the Lincoln Memorial was created. Daniel Chester French was known to be a very technical sculptor. He spent a year at Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a young man, and his dad was an engineer who invented the French drain. I brought along our Lincoln 3D print, wondering as we perused the museum what French would have thought about my reproduction of his masterpiece.

Exterior and interior views of the Chesterwood studio are beautiful.

The museum revealed that French had analog versions of some of the same tools that engineers and designers use in product development today. In the main part of the gallery was one of the few plaster casts that was pulled directly from Lincoln’s face?an 1800s version of my 3D scan CAD (computer-aided design) file. His “3D printer” was his series of scrapers, other hand tools and molds he made with plaster.

French would start his works by making small models and make progressively bigger iterations, slowly scaling them up until they were ready to be carved from stone. When I want to scale a file to 3D print, I just click a button in the software. French had to use a big lever called a pantograph to maintain his dimensions.

An early study for the Lincoln Memorial (about 6 inches tall) sits in front of the larger study.

We continued our tour to French’s Italian villa-inspired studio. On the side is a curious set of train tracks that go just a few feet before stopping. This innovation allowed French to wheel his larger works into the daylight to study how light and shadow fell on his pieces.

Modern-day designers use rendering software such as Keyshot to apply different lighting conditions to our CAD models and see how they will look in different environments. It was amazing to see Chesterwood again through the lens of time and overlay my experiences as a product engineer to see just how much overlap there is between the needs of a modern-day design firm and century-old master sculptor.

Sculptures were wheeled into the sunlight to study light and shadow on these train tracks to nowhere.

Harper hung with me for the hours that I subjected her to the history lessons and my famous over-explanations. I wanted to give her some perspective and show her the scale and importance of the Lincoln Memorial?and more important, that great work is more involved than the few hours it took to 3D-print our travel mascot. Who knows if she will remember any bit of our trip, but if she dreads our next vacation I know I will have done my job well. Just wait to see what I have planned when we visit the Louvre someday.

You can see more of my #lincolndiaries on Instagram:?

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1 Comment protoTYPING: History Lessons for a Young Girl – and Her Dad

  1. Sarah Mann

    I am truly and deeply moved by what an excellent parent you are. If everyone had parents who were this devoted to torturing their children the world would be an almost unimaginably different place.
    Also, Harper is ADORABLE.

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