MONTPELIER, Vt. — Gov. Peter Shumlin is in the final months of what will be six years as the state’s 81st governor, and in recent decades, one of the rituals of a governor leaving office is sitting for the official portrait that will join his predecessors’ on the Statehouse walls.
The portrait is meant to be more than just a painting of the person who held office. It’s supposed to be a work of art that captures the personality of the governor, both as a human being and as a politician.
The artist chosen to paint Shumlin, a Democrat, this year was August Burns, who says she hopes to capture Shumlin’s casual attitude but also convey the gravitas of the office.
“I want to really express who Peter is and his view of himself as governor within the context of the dignity of the office of governor of the state of Vermont,” Burns said in her Middlesex studio.
New Hampshire, by contrast, where Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan is also preparing to leave office after this year, is somewhat slower in artistically honoring former governors. Like Vermont, the New Hampshire portraits are privately funded and gifted to the state, but all aren’t hung in the Statehouse.
The most recent portrait to be hung was a decade ago. It was of Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, who left office after the 2002 election and is now serving as a U.S. senator. Democrat John Lynch left office in 2012 but hasn’t finished the fundraising for his portrait.
Hassan is challenging Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte in the November election and has no plans to have a portrait made until after she leaves office. Her office says she’s too focused on her job to begin discussions about a portrait.
Vermont Statehouse curator David Schutz said the state has images of all but about five of the 81 people who have served as governor, though not all are on display. The portraits are intended to convey something about the governor as much as a personal image.
Schutz said the portrait of Vermont’s first female governor, Madeleine Kunin, a Democrat who served from 1985 to 1991, shows her sitting in the governor’s ceremonial office in the Statehouse in what’s known as the constitution chair.
“It has all the traditional elements of power … showing that women had finally a place to sit in the office,” Schutz said.
Nearby is the portrait of Democrat Howard Dean, who served from 1991 to 2003. It shows him in a chamois shirt with a canoe paddle in his hands, portraying him as the outdoorsman.
“He’s saying it in a different way, the beauty of Vermont,” Schutz said of the portrait, which shows Lake Champlain in the background. “It’s as much a landscape as it is a portrait as him.”
Burns, who was selected by Shumlin and his wife, Katie Hunt, spent a career in health care before returning to a passion for portraits 13 years ago. She knows the portrait will take its place alongside Shumlin’s predecessors’ and become a part of the history of Vermont.
“I am hoping that I will be able to create not just a portrait,” she said, “but a work of art.”
Associated Press writer Kathleen Ronayne contributed to this report from Dover, New Hampshire.