Saturday, December 18, 2010

CHANGES: Governor Douglas Portrait Unveiled at Vermont Statehouse

By Theodore A. Hoppe

In the beginning of the month the State of Vermont received an early Christmas present, but it didn't have to wait until Christmas morning to take the wrappings off this gift. The gift, of course, is a new addition to the state's art collection, a portrait of Vermont's outgoing governor, Gov. Jim Douglas. The larger than life painting is a splendid likeness of Gov. Douglas. It depicts him in a dark blue suit and red striped tie, an American flag pin on his left lapel, with a beaming smile.

Speaking at a ceremony for the unveiling of the painting, David Schutz, who has been the State Curator since 1986, could not contain his delight about the new portrait, describing it as one of the top five among the several hundred portraits of governors, military heroes and other individuals exhibited in the Statehouse. Schultz added that it is "not just a portrait of a governor, but also a work of art."

It should be noted that governors’ portraits are not paid for with public funds. It has been a long-standing tradition that a committee of friends and supporters of a governor generally coordinate the fundraising effort. The Douglas portrait cost about $30,000, similar to that of his predecessor, Democratic Gov. Howard Dean. The artist Gov. Douglas selected to paint his portrait is Vermont artist Kate Gridley. She has previously taught at Middlebury College, and currently lives in Middlebury with her husband and children. Her work includes landscapes and interiors as well as portraits. She has painted portraits of a number of prominent Vermonters, including former Middlebury College President Timothy Light, former Green Mountain College President Thomas Benson and Vermont Law School Dean Max Kempner.

Speaking at the unveiling of the painting, she noted that the portrait is not yet varnished because the oil paint will need a year to cure. This means that the surface of the painting is uneven: parts of it appear dull, parts are shiny, the depth and richness of the colors and the range of dark and light are not fully visible. Gridley described how the task of painting a portrait is complicated, not simply about likeness. It is about layers of paint, but also layers of meaning about who the person is."I hope the painting captures the essence of a man who is as honest as they come," Gridley said. "A man who loves to meet people. A man who enjoys honoring the events and special occasions that take place in towns across this state. I'd hope the governor's sense of humor and the fact that he's both formal and approachable are evident."

Those who have never taken a tour of the Statehouse might not realize just how many portraits hang there. A portrait of George Washington, painted by Massachusetts artist George Gassner, in the style of American portrait artist Gilbert Stuart, was the first piece of art purchased by the State of Vermont. The painting has an interesting past, including the fact that it was rescued from a fire that burned the Vermont Statehouse to the ground a few years after the painting was purchased. There are portraits of other historical figures as well: Vermont’s two U.S. presidents, Chester Alan Arthur and Calvin Coolidge, and Montpelier’s own Admiral George Dewey, posed in a white navel uniform on the bridge of his battleship. Legend has it that no likeness of Vermont's first governor, Thomas Chittenden, was available to the artist, so he worked from a sketch of the governor’s grandson, who, it was assumed, bore a likeness to his grandfather. As Schultz has previously pointed out, “More than just a home for the legislature, the Statehouse is also a museum."

Do stop in to see the new portrait, as well as the others while the Statehouse is decked out with its seasonal decorations.

Here is a video of the unveiling: