A Minnesota artist for a Minnesota governor?


Minnesota artist Carl Bohnen painting a portrait of Governor Theodore Christianson

Image courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

As soon as I posted the news late yesterday that Governor Pawlenty had chosen Rossin to paint his official gubernatorial portrait, I started getting comments – via Facebook, MPR e-mail, and in person – questioning the decision. There are plenty of Minnesota artists who do portraits – so why not keep the tax dollars funding the painting (which is costing $25-30,000) in the state by hiring a Minnesotan?

Now I knew that Governor Ventura had also gone beyond the state borders to find the artist who painted his portrait (Arizona native and California resident Stephen Cepello), but I wondered, how many other governors had made this same choice?

Not many, according to the Minnesota Historical Society’s art curator Brian Szott. Szott did me the favor of digging into the MHS archives, and found that only one other governor – Orville Freeman – was painted by a non-Minnesotan (Hungarian born portrait artist Elisabeth Mihalyi). In one other instance, for Governor Luther Youngdahl’s portrait, it is unclear if the artist Louis A. Grendahl was ever a Minnesota resident.

So out of 39 governors, three (possibly four) chose to go outside the state of Minnesota to find a portrait artist. Why? Is it because we’re now living in a more globalized society? (not likely – Orville Freeman served in 1955) Is it a political thing? (also unlikely, since those who chose non-Minnesotans were a democrat, an independent and a republican, respectively). Or were they concerned about their image at the national level? Hmm….

I’ve put a query into the Governor’s Office to ask for Pawlenty’s reasoning, and I’ll post it here as soon as I get a response.