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The Agony and the Ecstasy of Painting the White House

  • Capital Connections ®
  • |
  • March 05, 2001

by Karen Feld

Artist Jamie Wyeth says he’s “giving up house painting,” after being “accosted by the White House swat team” better known as the Secret Service. And to interrupt the creative process even more, Buddy was let out, leaping all over the South Lawn and knocking over his easel. “Paint was flying everywhere.” That’s the way Wyeth described his first morning of painting the official Bicentennial portrait of the famous Pennsylvania Avenue address. “It was like a fortress, very spooky with all those barriers,” says the artist about his month long adventure painting the White House at dawn during Clinton’s last days. He was given a “houseguest” ID tag, but it didn’t take long before he was demoted to “worker grounds only.” “You get more of a sense of the place by being there, rather than working from photographs,” says Wyeth. “But it was real confusion,” Wyeth recalls, when he arrived at 5 AM in the pitch darkness to paint. Wyeth learned quickly that the best days to paint were when President Clinton was traveling. “The Secret Service wasn’t so jumpy,” he says. Commissioned by the White House Historical Association, the painting, “Dawn At The White House” was on exhibit in the Russell Senate Office Building as part of the exhibition “One Nation: Patriots and Pirates Portrayed by N.C. Wyeth and James Wyeth. It will be on display at the New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain, Conn (February 15 – April 30, 2001); and at Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, Pa.(June 2-Sept.3, 2001) before going home to the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Me.

Small world but long memories. . .at a recent gathering at New York media honcho Dick Stolley’s home, Marcia Lewis was on the lookout for an appropriate and eligible young man for her daughter. She spotted an attractive young professional from Washington and chatted him up before summoning her daughter, Monica Lewinsky from across the room. It wasn’t long before Monica asked him the Washington question de rigeur, “What do you do?” That was a conversation stopper. He’s a top aide to Bob Barr, the GOP Congressman who chaired the impeachment committee.

Marlin Fitzwater, former Press Secretary to the first President Bush, was called in to offer advice to the new White House press team–Ari Fleischer, Karen Hughes, and Mary Matalin. “You don’t have to explain what you don’t say,” Fitzwater warned. Marlin is sticking to fiction these days. His novel about a small town in Kansas will be published in June.

Short takes from the power circuit: It’s neither Bush nor Cheney. The real “POWER” in DC is the fragrance by that name. Jewelry designer Ann Hand launched it to coincide with the George W. Bush inaugural but as Hand says, “the real power is non-partisan.” Hand knows. She’s a Texan who arrived in Washington when her husband took a job as Protocol Chief for LBJ. The stylish Hand presented the first bottle of the pricey Italian fragrance to Alma Powell, the wife of one of Washington’s power-players.

While there’s “panda”-monium at the National Zoo, Ethel Kennedy has converted her tennis court in McLean, Va, to a home for a baby fallon. She tells Capital Connections, “he (the deer) eats everything but loves Armani best.” Right now, the grand-kids love the baby deer, but what will Mrs. Kennedy ever do when the tennis clan arrives with those first spring flowers!

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