Twin Cities artist reflects on painting late President George H. W. Bush

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Over the years, Twin Cities native and renowned fresco artist Mark Balma has painted everyone from Cecil the Lion to Jesus, but one of his most memorable portraits hangs in what will be former President George H. W. Bush's final resting place.

"It was sad, but I was grateful for the opportunity to know him," said Balma.

Balma has painted presidents from Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush, but one of his former subjects was more than just a blank canvas.

"He was a very kind and thoughtful man,” said Balma. “I saw him thinking about things a lot. He was a thinker in many ways."

Balma says he was commissioned by a Dallas real estate developer to paint a historical portrait of George H. W. Bush in 1996, four years after he left office. Balma says Bush came up with the title for an 11-by-11 feet painting called "Resolution," featuring Bush in the Oval Office with several cabinet members and advisors, including James Baker, Dick Cheney, General Colin Powell and Brent Scowcroft.

"General Powell helped me look for the expression when President Bush was thinking about a question or decision to be made,” said Balma. “He would put his fist in his hand and tilt his head and I started to see that when we would discuss things."

For a year, Balma says he met with Bush for about a dozen sittings in Houston, Washington D.C. and the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. Balma says the two talked about current affairs as Bush tried to process his time as president, which included the Gulf War, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the reunification of Germany and the protests at Tiananmen Square.

"We would talk about subjects, I would get the sense that he was pleased with the outcome of his term in office and I think he had a certain resolve that he did his best to lead the country in a very difficult time," he said.

After he was finished, Balma says the former president wrote him a note saying he was pleased with the painting at his presidential library in College Station, Texas.

For Balma, the portrait paints a picture of a different era in American politics that is part of Bush's lasting legacy.

"It’s individuals who make history and sometimes we see history through the eyes of the people who played a part in it and that's what I hope the portrait accomplishes," said Balma.