Every Vermont governor has to leave office eventually, whether voted out or deciding not to seek reelection. Either way, one perk awaits them: an official portrait that will hang in the Vermont Statehouse forever.
Gov. Peter Shumlin, of course, chose the second exit strategy earlier this year, and his term of office will end in January. That means his recently chosen portraitist, August Burns, has four months to complete the painting.
"I plan on spending as long as it takes," she said in a phone call from her Middlesex home on Tuesday. "This is an amazingly wonderful gift and challenge."
The selection of Burns, who is known for her luminous portraits and other figurative work, was announced last week. According to a release from the governor's office, Shumlin, his wife, Katie (who is also an artist) and state curator David Schutz collectively arrived at the decision.
"I'm working on it as we speak," Burns said. "We met and decided on a pose and took photographs. [Shumlin] will come in and sit as needed." The artist said she generally starts "from life," then works from photographs, and then calls the subject back in to "get the nuances and the spirit of the person." After all, she added, "We don't want a painting of a photograph."
Governor portrait artists are paid with private funds, and the works are donated to the Statehouse. Burns was reluctant to specify her payment but says she is "well compensated."
Burns also could not reveal details of the portrait, but said it will be "of the Statehouse, with a fairly quiet background." The size was not predetermined, but she noted, "I think there is an interest in conserving [wall] space at this point." So perhaps Shumlin's likeness will be more modest than some of the grander govs. Burns said that one of her favorite portraits in the Statehouse, of governor George Aiken, is actually one of the smaller ones at about 24 by 36 inches.
The piece is "not just a portrait of a man," Burns said. "For me, it's about the office, the dignity of it."
The original print version of this article was headlined "Head of State"