Obama portrait unveiled at rather opportune time

The Colorado Statesman

The presidential portrait gallery at the state Capitol finally has its newest member, after Democrats unveiled a portrait of the 44th president, Barack Obama, on Monday.

English-born Colorado Springs artist Sarah Boardman stands beside her oil painting of U.S. President Barack Obama in the Capitol’s third-floor rotunda.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman
Denver’s former first couple, Mayor Wellington Webb and First Lady Wilma Webb, at the unveiling of Barack Obama’s portrait in the Capitol’s third-floor President’s Gallery.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman
Former Rep. Paul Weissmann, Senate President Brandon Shaffer, Sen. Pat Steadman, former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb and former First Lady Wilma Webb applaud artist Sarah Boardman, while portraits of U.S. presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison look out into the rotunda.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman
Artist Sarah Boardman enjoys the response to her words and her painting of President Obama.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

The portrait was painted by Colorado Springs artist Sarah Boardman, who is trained in the Old Masters portraiture style. The $10,000 cost was covered by a lead gift from former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb and his wife, former state Rep. Wilma Webb, along with donations from First Bank, Xcel, Comcast, Western Union and Arts of Colorado.

House Democratic Chief of Staff and former state Rep. Paul Weissmann led the effort to come up with the portrait, telling The Colorado Statesman he began working on fundraising last year because no one else stepped up to do it. But donations were slow to come in, and a July article in the Denver Post detailing the struggle prompted the Webbs to get involved, he said.

The Obama portrait is the first to be done by someone other than Lawrence Williams, who painted the other 43 presidential portraits, beginning in 1979. Williams died in 2003.

The ceremony unveiling the portrait came barely more than 12 hours after Obama announced that Osama bin Laden had been captured and killed. “On this day, as we celebrate Military Appreciation Day here in Colorado, when the United States and the world reflect on our success in Pakistan, it is fortuitous that we dedicate the portrait of President Barack Obama,” Weissmann said in a statement.

In contrast to the last six presidential portraits, Boardman painted an unsmiling president. “It’s a very serious job,” she told The Statesman.

Boardman, a certified “Old Master” painter, is a native of Saulsbury, England, and moved to Colorado 18 years ago with her husband, Kenneth, a former Army Intelligence officer. Boardman said she spent 4½ years in Wiesbaden, Germany, studying under famed Old Master Alfred Herzfeld, whom Boardman said performed some of the restoration work at the Sistine Chapel. Boardman also comes from a long line of artists, including an uncle who painted an early portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.

Boardman was selected after a nationwide search for artists, but Weissmann said one of the criterion was that the artist be a Coloradan. Colorado Creative Industries, formerly the Colorado Council on the Arts, made the final selection, and Boardman began drawing sketches for the Obama portrait in November with painting begun in January.

“This is the absolute peak of my career,” she told The Statesman Monday.

Marianne@coloradostatesman.com