President’s portraits celebrate, honor veterans

President’s portraits celebrate, honor veterans


For one month only, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville will host a collection of oil paintings by former President George W. Bush honoring servicemen and women.

“Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors” opened on Dec. 21 following its exhibition at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. The exhibit has been traveling since 2017 and brings 49 works from the collection to Crystal Bridges’ walls in celebration and honor of the warriors’ narratives.

“The portraits of course are pieces of art, but they’re so much more than that,” offers Col. Matthew F. Amidon, USMCR, director of the Military Service Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute. “They reveal stories of service, sacrifice and resiliency, and I would really commend the visitors to read each story and understand and embrace that these folks don’t think of themselves as victims.”

“The bold colors and flattened shapes of the painting style is indicative of President Bush’s style overall, and certainly carries influence from painters he admires, such as Wayne Thiebauld, Lucien Freud and Fairfield Porter,” shares Mindy Besaw, Crystal Bridges curator. “The vivid colors command attention from the viewer, which helps to focus on the subject of the paintings. President Bush uses color intentionally to convey a mood in the paintings, although he does not link particular colors to specific meaning.”

“Truly, they are leaders, and they’re leaders our nation so desperately needs,” Col. Amidon continues. Our duty as a nation is to empower our veterans and their families, while the duty of these leaders is to embrace their next mission, he adds thoughtfully. That is where the Military Service Initiative focuses efforts in helping these veterans make a successful transition to civilian life.

“I think most people know, but often they don’t, that since 2001, over 3 million service members have deployed overseas to either Iraq, Afghanistan or other theaters of conflict. And it really is important to highlight that the vast majority, when they transition home, do so incredibly well. They’re the continued leaders in our communities, our businesses and our organizations,” Col. Amidon says.

“But for those who face challenges — and a certain percentage face what we call the invisible wounds of war: post traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury — our [message] is to say, ‘You were brave on the battlefield, you need to be brave when you come home and you need to seek, find and get into high quality care.’ Because the invisible wounds of war are most certainly not a life sentence. And with effective care, they can be effectively treated.”

The “Portraits of Courage” offer a compelling way to share these warriors’ stories with the public, as well as raise awareness for the work done through the Bush Institute, Col. Amidon adds. Programs under the Military Service Initiative recognize sports as an important part of the rehabilitation process with Team 43; develop the skills of veterans and those supporting them through the Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program; aid in veteran transition through economic opportunity with the VET Roadmap program; and support health and well-being through the Warrior Wellness Alliance.

“What a wonderful way to spread the message of the incredible work that’s being done at the Military Service Initiative on behalf of President and Mrs. Bush,” Col. Amidon enthuses. “I think the President and Mrs. Bush are very interested in a think tank, but also, more importantly, a ‘do tank,’ which is where you take relevant research and policy and when you see a gap, you invest in that and you ensure that the people are directly impacted by your work.

“At the end of the day, it really is a human business,” he goes on.

“It’s just about people getting to know people and breaking down misunderstandings. And, in some ways, there is no better way to do that than via the portraits with the warriors and the visiting public who really wants to know more about those who’ve served in our all-volunteer force since 2001.”



‘Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors’

WHEN — On display through Jan. 20

WHERE — Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

COST — Free


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