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Abe finds his voice: augmented reality brings 'Abraham Blue' mural at Peoria County Courthouse to life

The original "Abraham Blue" mural on the Peoria County Courthouse
Big Picture Peoria
The original "Abraham Blue" mural on the Peoria County Courthouse

The "Abraham Blue" mural on the Peoria County Courthouse is getting an update.

The new mural, titled "Abraham Blue 2023", will include augmented reality features which allow people to use their phones to access historical facts and mental health resources.

WCBU's Camryn Cutinello spoke with Artist Doug Leunig about new mural.

What was the original inspiration behind this mural?

My intention was to draw attention to the fact that Abraham Lincoln suffered melancholia, and that is, in modern day terms clinical depression, because of the fact that they didn't have that term back in his time. Well, maybe they had the term but there was a stigma about mental illness. That didn't apply to Abraham Lincoln because he was totally open about his condition. And he talked about it with his friends and neighbors. And because of that, he was able to be spared from his suicidal ideation, of actually wanting to commit suicide all the time, because melancholia is a condition that everything is always bleak and dire and awful. And he was able to work through that, because he had people around him who cared about him watched out for him.

And how did you choose what exactly to include in the augmented reality portion?

That was a team decision, because it's course it's not all about just the artists making this piece of art. In fact, one of the aspects of this, that actually came up the first time as well. I'm the artist, singular. Leunig is my last name. But I insisted that we put an "s" on that, because Eileen is an integral part of this art creation, not just the fact that the rendering aspect of it, because she's actually a part of that as well, since she's my best critique and gives me lots of guidance as to how things appear to her. But with the idea that the "s' is on there, this is this piece of work is a collaborative piece of work. And it's more than just Eileen and me, Mark Misselhorn and Maggie Misselhorn are co-founders of the Big Picture Initiative. And they are also instrumental in actually having "Abraham Blue" beyond the courthouse building. So again, team effort, I do have a role. I have a cameo appearance where I talk for a few minutes. I am not a public speaker, and I'm not somebody that normally comes across on TV as a dynamic character. But I do have something to say about this. So that's included as well.

It's going to be videos and text that comes up?

Videos, text and links. All the normal stuff that you get online. We actually used an app to animate Abraham Lincolns portrait. So I created the portrait that's going on in the courthouse, and then we made it talk. And what we did... we made Abraham Lincoln talk about his depression. And we took it from things that he wrote about, in fact, that's one of the things I mentioned Joshua's Speed. The letter to Joshua Speed is pretty impacting, and we have him reading that and talking about it. We also have a little bit of the story of his 1854 speech at the courthouse. So that also is very intriguing, because it really kind of clarifies what happened and what happened beyond that. So that's a very cool aspect of it as well.

What's the timetable for this project?

November 13, is the presentation at 1:30 (p.m.) at Peoria Riverfront Museum. But I think we really want this to be more an event of starting the curiosity about how the arts can help healing and how we can all destigmatize mental health by talking more about it, talking openly about our experiences talking to our friends who are displaying a little bit of being off. Okay, why are you off? What are you feeling? Getting these conversations [going] is what leads us to finding solutions. We have a lot of things coming out of Peoria. And I believe that our healthcare system is tackling the difficulties of mental health, that we are going to come up with solutions. We're going to come up with solutions that everybody in the country will pay attention to because we'll do it as a community collaboratively and with love. That's the basis of this whole thing is we have to do what we love to do and love what we're doing and I think that's one of the things that will drive this whole thing for success.

Camryn Cutinello is a reporter and digital content director at WCBU. You can reach Camryn at cncutin@illinoisstate.edu.