Denver — Wandering the third floor of the Colorado State Capitol, in the rotunda under the newly-refurbished gold-encrusted dome visitors will encounter the Gallery of Presidents where oil portraits of every President of the United States are on display. Every President except one.
Missing is the portrait of the 45th President, Donald J. Trump, which should hang next to the portraits of Presidents William Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama.
The original 38 oil portraits painted by portrait artist Lawrence Williams were donated to the Colorado Department of Education by Mr. and Mrs. Harry Sullivan in 1978. Intended to be circulated among Colorado schools, the paintings eventually ended up on the walls of the statehouse.
That President Trump’s portrait is missing is not some grand conspiracy to keep President Trump off the statehouse wall however.
According to Damion Pechota, Senior Research Analyst for the non-partisan Legislative Council and staffer for the Capitol Building Advisory Committee (CBAC) that oversees the artwork in the Capitol, a lack of funds is the cause of the delay.
Legislative policy does not permit the CBAC to solicit funds nor are the members of the General Assembly willing to appropriate money from the general fund to have portraits prepared. “We have to reach $10,000 to pay for it,” says Pechota.
“It’s never been done for all the other Presidents. I think that the legislators would be nervous about setting a precedent,” Pechota says, “For example the Governor’s portrait follows the same process. They don’t get any funding from the General Assembly for the Governor’s portraits either because they see it as very different functions of the government.”
Funding for portraits is managed by the Colorado Creative Industries (CCI), which is part of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIC). Private donations are what pay for new portraits.
Explaining why President Trump’s portrait is missing nearly a year after his inauguration Pechota says, “It takes a while for them to commission the portraits. The Obama portrait for example took over two years to do.”
Pechota says that no donations have yet been received. “We’ve been trying to get the word out,” he said, “The last time I checked was around November. People had been wondering because it had been a year since his election.”
This might be explained by the fact that neither the OEDIC nor the CCI websites make any mention of or have any information about the presidential portrait fund or any link to where citizens can donate. No GoFundMe account for that purpose was found online either. Inquiries to OEDIC and CCI were not returned by press time.
Colorado Springs artist Sarah Boardman was chosen to paint the portrait. Boardman was selected in part to keep the portrait consistent with the one of former President Obama. “She agreed to do the Trump presidential portrait. So now we’re just in a waiting period to see where we can get funds.”
“It only takes a couple of months to paint the portrait. The George W. Bush portrait, that one the artist was still alive and he actually started painting it almost right out of the gate just because that’s what he’s done with all of them,” he says, “We raised funds and an anonymous donor from Grand Junction put up the bulk of the money.”
All but one of the portraits are traditional oil on canvas. President Clinton’s is different. “The Clinton one is unusual. It’s what’s called a giclee,” Pechota says, “That portrait was donated by the National Archives through the Bill Clinton Presidential Library. They wanted their portrait back and we asked them if they could make a copy of it. That way we could keep the consistency with the original artist. It’s actually a really nice photograph and then they put it on a canvas to make it look like paint. That one is the only one like that in the entire collection.”
The featured thumbnail image on the Colorado Capitol Art web page describing the presidential portrait gallery is of former President Obama.
“We haven’t updated the website in some time. We’ve been working on it currently for over a year,” says Pechota, “We’re trying to redo the entire website because there’s some artwork on there that has been decommissioned as well as new memorials and artworks that we’ve since relocated to the Capitol that need to be put on the website as well. I think the only reason we have it is because it’s the most recent portrait we have.”
When asked if there was any money left in the fund from the last round of funding Pechota said, “The money that we had remaining we used to purchase frames for future years, that way we could use the $10,000 on the portrait itself and not have to purchase the frames. It’s cheaper to do it in bulk and that way they remain consistent. The frame manufacturers change over time and that way they look the same. We only bought three frames. That way Obama, Trump and whoever the next President is will have the same frames.”
Citizens interested in donating to the Trump presidential portrait can contact:
Margaret Hunt, Director of CCI, email@example.com
Ruth Bruno, Program Manager, Art in Public Places, CCI, firstname.lastname@example.org
Eloise Hirsch, Legislative Liason COEDIT, email@example.com
Emily Williams, Communications Manager at the COEDIT, firstname.lastname@example.org