Las Vegas Sun

November 18, 2017

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Job of painting Guinn goes beyond the canvas

CARSON CITY - Before any of the more than 30 artists hoping to paint the official portrait of Gov. Kenny Guinn puts brush to canvas, here's some advice that could help ensure that no one ends up red-faced:

Make the governor look younger. Make him look thinner. Maybe show him smiling. But absolutely, positively don't make him look like Fu Manchu.

Wednesday was the deadline for artists to submit applications to the Nevada Arts Council to paint the portrait of Guinn that eventually will hang in a hallway of the state Capitol building.

A four-member committee will narrow the field to three finalists by July 1, after which the final selection will be made by Guinn and his wife, Dema.

The 2005 Legislature appropriated $20,000 for the painting and framing of the portrait, which late this year or early next will take its place beside those of other Nevada governors.

The painting of governors' portraits has not always gone smoothly, and artists and subjects alike sometimes have been anything but smiling - on or off the canvas - by the time the works were unveiled.

Perhaps the rockiest experience involved the portrait of Gov. Charles Russell, which "made him look Asian," Guy Rocha, state archivist, said.

"The family was unhappy," Rocha said. Russell's son, Clark Russell, said he believed the painting made his father - a Republican who was governor from 1951 to 1958 - appear like Fu Manchu, a fictional Chinese villain.

Eventually, another artist was hired to paint a second portrait that is now on display.

Susan Boskoff, executive director of the Arts Council, said the panel is looking for artists who have been commissioned in the past to paint portraits "to show they have the skills." The artist who painted Gov. Bob Miller, she noted, had previously done a portrait of former South African President Nelson Mandela.

The artists applying were required to present six slides of their works and a proposed budget breaking out the artist's fee, materials, insurance, travel and other costs.

The review panel - Robert Nylen, curator of history at the Nevada State Museum; Ann Wolfe, curator of the Nevada Museum of Arts in Reno; Candy Schneider of Las Vegas, a member of the board of the state Arts Council; and Mike Hillerby, Guinn's former chief of staff - will meet June 16 in Carson City to make its three recommendations. The Guinns are expected to meet with the three finalists before making their choice.

The 30-plus artists in the running include "a number of artists who have done portraits of other governors and a couple of Nevada artists," Boskoff said.

The portrait itself is expected to take about six months to complete. Boskoff hopes the portrait will be ready for its public unveiling between Dec. 15 and mid-January.

When it comes to painting any portrait, egos - on both sides of the brush - often shape the final product and how it is viewed.

Subjects, Boskoff said, usually want to be shown smiling. Artists, however, "typically ... don't paint smiles," she said.

Those who sit for portraits also usually like for the commissioned artists to perform a little plastic surgery with their brush and oils.

"Everyone wants to be 10 years younger and 20 pounds lighter," she said.

Artists, trying to capture the essence of their subjects, do extensive research and often take hours of photos looking for inspiration.

"Artists see deeply inside their subjects," she said.

Later this year, Guinn will decide whether he likes what the artist sees.