First Sgt. Will Ferrara was stunned when former president George W. Bush asked to paint his portrait.

Photo by Elissa Chudwin

Ferrara met the former president in 2013 at the Warrior 100K, where veterans from across the country participate in a 100-kilometer mountain bike ride. A year ago, while shopping with his wife, Melissa, he received an email asking to feature his likeness in “Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors.”

“If I trust him enough to go to war for him, I trust him enough to paint me,” Ferrara says.

But seeing the artwork for himself was an entirely different experience, one that was simultaneously humbling and an honor.

“When we saw the painting, it was like a kick in the gut,” Melissa says. “It was, ‘Wow, look how far he’s come.’”

He looked as if he carried the weight of the world on his shoulders after returning from deployment, she says, and the portrait captured exactly how he felt.

Ferrara is one of 98 post-9/11 veterans featured in “Portraits of Courage” at the George W. Bush Presidential Center. The exhibition is open to the public from March 2-Oct. 1.

Photo by Elissa Chudwin

George W. Bush isn’t the first president to put a paintbrush to canvas, the New York Times reports. At West Point, Ulysses S. Grant painted landscapes and horses. Amateur artist Winston Churchill suggested Dwight D. Eisenhower — who created hundreds of works — take up the hobby, too.

Churchill’s “Painting as a Pastime” is what inspired Bush to pursue his own artistic endeavors. It turned out he has a knack for it.

In 2014, the presidential center showcased Bush’s first exhibition “The Art of Leadership: A President’s Personal Diplomacy.” Art critic Roberta Smith wrote the portraits of Angela Merkel, Vladimir Putin and other world leaders demonstrated the former president’s “unsettling talent.”

For Bush, “Portraits of Courage” is a way to honor the people he has met through golfing, biking and other events he organizes for veterans.

“Painting these vets was a fantastic experience for me,” he said during a press event. “As you know, I’m a fledgling artist. I’m learning to paint. What’s important about expressing yourself to paint, in my case, is thinking about their story.”

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