President Bush painting. Photo by Grant Miller.
Since the end of his presidency, George W. Bush has pursued his passion for painting in his Preston Hollow home art studio, formerly his “man cave.”
Gail Norfleet was Bush’s first art instructor. “Gail, there’s a Rembrandt trapped in this body. Your job is to liberate him,” Bush recalled telling her, in the intro to the 2017 book about his hobby. Texas Christian University art professor Jim Woodson became his second teacher followed by Sedrick Huckaby, who is the one who suggested Bush paint people he knew but others didn’t. This inspired Bush to focus on the wounded warriors he had met during the W100K mountain bike rides and Warrior Open golf outings organized by the Bush Institute. He began creating the portraits of 98 veterans in 2015.
“Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors” (Crown Publishers, $35) is a collection of that work along with profiles of the soldiers. The book’s profits will be donated to the George W. Bush Presidential Center and its Military Service Initiative, a non-profit organization that helps post-9/11 veterans and their families transition to civilian life.
A traveling art exhibit, which has the same title as the book, features 66 oil portraits, stories and a four-panel mural. The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., hosted the exhibit, on loan from the Ambassador and Mrs. George L. Argyros Collection of Presidential Art at the George W. Bush Presidential Center, Oct. 7-Nov. 15. It can be seen at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, through Jan. 20.
“I wanted to show their determination to recover, lack of self-pity, and desire to continue to serve in new ways as civilians,” Bush said in the introduction, admitting he’s a novice artist. “The greatest honor of the presidency was looking them in the eye and saluting them as their Commander in Chief,” he wrote. “And I intend to salute and support them for the rest of my life.”