The artist who created the White House Christmas card
Landscape painter Tim Lawson re-created the view from the Truman balcony for a holiday card that the Bushes sent to friends and dignitaries around the world.
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Lawson started infusing more history into his work after he met his wife, Dorie. She is the daughter of two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough. In 2004, Lawson and a colleague traced the entire route of the Lewis & Clark expedition in commemoration of its bicentennial. A capstone painting from that series portrays Thomas Jefferson’s study at Monticello, where the president did much of the planning for the expedition.Skip to next paragraph
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“What I’ve learned to appreciate from my father-in-law is that history isn’t behind us,” Lawson says. “Those who made it may have come before us. They are leading the way and we are following in their footsteps.”
Lawson had already established something of a footprint in Washington. More than 20 years ago, Susan Simpson Gallagher, an art historian and the daughter of Alan Simpson, had introduced his work to the cognoscenti in the capital. The Bushes became aware of Lawson’s artistry through their relationship with the McCulloughs.
As background for the Christmas card painting, Lawson was given a personal tour of the White House by Laura Bush. At the time, the artist said he hoped to convey some of the spirit of the first family on canvas.
He apparently did. The first lady has noted that the Christmas card image reflects the bittersweet sense she and her husband are feeling as their tenure winds down. Others have called the painting a visual meditation. At its unveiling earlier this month, Mrs. Bush described the image as “fabulous” – a “beautiful work.”
The man behind the brush exudes a small-town politeness and modesty. An observer could mistake him for being bookish and nerdy. But he is a former high school football player and father of four young kids who has a reputation among his peers for being irrepressibly hardy and studious about the things he paints.
During winter months, whether in the cryogenic cold of Wyoming or the blustery winds of Maine, the painter rises before dawn and sets up his easel at isolated locations, rushing to make sketches before his paint tubes freeze.
To convey the misty moods of the rainy seasons, he has braved downpours and thunderstorms, shielding himself and his paint kit with only a green garbage bag.
“Tim now goes out into the field for information and inspiration to bring back to the studio, whereas in the early days the outdoors was his studio,” says Ms. Simpson Gallagher, who owns a gallery in Cody, Wyo.
Lawson studied at the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts in Old Lyme, Conn., and the American Academy of Art in Chicago. Even though friends told him it was impractical to make a living as a painter, he persisted. Today his Christmas card image – which he calls the “biggest assignment” of my life” – places him in the rarefied fold of Jamie Wyeth, who painted two holiday scenes for the Reagans, and Ray Ellis and Thomas McKnight, whose originals adorned cards for the Clintons.
“With just a few brush strokes, Tim Lawson has put the emotion and wonder and sense of patriotism you feel [on the Truman balcony] into a powerful little package,” says former Senator Simpson. The image, he adds, has “become part of the memory of our country.”