My name is Chris Umhoefer. I am an artist who has been creating original Lincoln shirt designs since late 2009. I have always been intensely creative – I also write music and I am working on a Lincoln video game. I currently reside in Chicago. I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin.
I love and admire Abraham Lincoln, his whole incredible story, the things he said, the ideas and ideals he fought for – they define the fundamental notions of human rights and the kinds of things America is supposed to be about, more than anyone else in our history. I live my life by his principles as much as I can and he strongly influences my own political and moral beliefs. I own over 100 books on him. I began to like Lincoln during my teen years, when I read about him in a book and I took a trip to Springfield, IL to learn about him – as someone who really wanted to be free, the Great Emancipator resonated with me more than anyone else ever did.
I came up with the idea for Lincoln Apparel in 2009 during the Lincoln Bicentennial. At the time, I lived in Springfield, Illinois, and was surrounded by tacky gift shops selling cheap, poorly thought out Lincoln shirts made using sweatshop labor, something Lincoln would detest as much as slavery. I wanted to create unique, colorful, wearable art designs that respected Lincoln and his legacy. As part of this, my shirts have always been ethically made in the USA – no sweatshop or slave labor involved.
My first couple designs focused on the Bicentennial itself. These designs no longer exist. They were created in a more traditional (but still colorful) style. In early 2010 I made my first design that covered the front of the shirt. I called it “80s Abe”, after the way I drew his hair and the two vibrant neon colors I used. This design still exists and remains my most popular. The groundwork laid by that design came to define my style by 2012.
I create my designs in GIMP and Inkscape, which are the open source equivalents of Photoshop and Illustrator, respectively. Some designs begin on paper first, others are entirely digital. All designs are created under the open source Linux operating system. I think Lincoln would love the philosophy behind open source.
Each design I create is drawn at the size it will be printed at, which is 17″x22″ or larger (because this is the size that fills the front of a unisex adult S with about 1″ of free space on each side – and on still appears to fill the shirt on M and L shirts). I try out a new technique on every design, and I experiment with and pay very careful attention to color. “Young Mr. Lincoln” with its carefully drawn digital lines and varying color schemes, “Forever Free” with his colorful beard drawn on paper in 4 colors before being scanned in, “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Abe” with its contrast through various pattern fills in 3 colors. My art is created with the intent that it will be worn. The shirt colors are always part of the artwork as well. My designs take as long as a painting to complete – 10 to 30 hours, and the result is colorful, detailed, dynamic, beautiful wearable art T-shirts, in a world where so many T-shirt designs are hastily thrown together.
In 2012, my shirts began to dramatically increase in popularity, something I attribute to my unique style and exposure through shows such as the now defunct 3rd Thursday Art Show in Springfield as well as the farmers market there and a couple local festivals like the Downhome Arts & Music Festival and the now-defunct SOHO Music Fest.
By 2014, it was clear to me that I needed a larger, more arts-oriented market to sell and exhibit my work in. This triggered a move to Chicago after my first few festivals there were successful. (My first show in Chicago was the Belmont Sheffield Music Festival in 2014.) Since then, my work has been at many festivals in Chicago, including the Logan Square Arts Fest and the Edgewater Fall Arts Festival, and festivals are now the primary way I sell my shirts.
In 2018 I began to show at festivals in other major Midwestern cities like Columbus, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and even Denver (the furthest I’ve traveled from Chicago). I am proud that my shirts are loved in so many places and I hope to make Lincoln Apparel into a national brand someday.