Pawlenty picks serious portrait for serious times

Pawlentys and official portrait

Tim Pawlenty placed his arm on the shoulder of his wife, Mary, posing for photos in front of his official governor’s portrait, to be hung in the Minnesota Capitol today.

The former first lady turned to look at the painting, her formal smile turning into a genuine one as she realized generations of Minnesotans will see this portrait when they tour the state’s iconic building.

The episode came Monday night after they and about 150 invited guests watched the portrait, by Bulgaria native Ross R. Rossin, be unveiled in a Capitol ceremony.

The portrait shows a serious Pawlenty from just above the knees, in front of the Minnesota Capitol. He is wearing a dark suit, white shirt and red tie.

Pawlenty, 50, said Rossin suggested a serious look to reflect serious times. That, the artist told the former governor, would better stand the test of time.

Mary Pawlenty said they discussed putting icons in the painting, such as a hockey stick to highlight the sport her husband adores. But Rossin convinced them to keep it simple.

There are no hidden meaning or icons in the painting, the former first lady said.

Rossin told the crowd that simple portraits, like the Mona Lisa, grab attention. “They have a tendency to last.”

Pawlenty thanked the audience, most of whom worked for him at one time. “I think we made a positive difference to our state.”

The audience was peppered with former state agency heads and rank-and-file workers in the governor’s office.

Pawlenty told reporters that an office staffer picked out 10 to 15 possible artists.

“The more I met with him, the more I really liked him,” Pawlenty said about Rossin. “He likes the country, he loves freedom.”

As to why he didn’t pick a Minnesota artist, Pawlenty said that Rossin just seemed to be the best fit. “I am sure there are many, many good Minnesota artists.”

Rossin extensively exhibited in Europe and Asia and moved to Atlanta 10 years ago and now is an American citizen. He focuses on portraiture, which included painting presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. A painting of baseball great Hank Aaron recently was added to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The Minnesota Historical Society is responsible for portraits of all 38 former governors. The most asked-about among Capitol visitors portrait is of Pawlenty’s predecessor, Jesse Ventura.

The portraits line the Capitol’s hallways.

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