President George W. Bush paints in his Texas studio.
George W. Bush’s post-presidential passion for painting was as surprising to the former First Lady as it was to everyone else.
“When George and I married, if someone told me that he would become President, I would have thought, ‘Well, maybe,’” writes Laura Bush in the new book, Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors, a collection of the former president’s military portraits. “But if someone said, ‘One day you will be writing a foreword for a book that includes George’s paintings,’ I would have said, ‘No way.’”
She might have been further shocked to learn her husband would have his own art shows, such as the recently opened exhibition of his paintings of veterans, Portraits of Courage, in Dallas. Sixty-six of President Bush’s full-color portraits and a four-panel mural of servicemen and women are now on display at the George W. Bush Presidential Center.
Since leaving office, Bush has focused on his center’s Military Service Initiative that helps former soldiers transition to civilian life, find work, and secure health care. In his free time out of office, he took up painting. But it wasn’t until Bush had a conversation with Fort Worth, Texas, painter Sedrick Huckaby that he thought to combine his interests in art and military service. “[He] suggested I paint people whom I knew but others didn’t,” writes Bush in the book’s introduction. “Instantly, I thought of painting wounded warriors I had gotten to know.”
In September 2015, Bush began painting servicemen and women. “As I painted them, I thought about their backgrounds, their time in the military, and the issues they dealt with as a result of combat,” he writes. Alongside each portrait, Bush shares the soldier’s story.
The former president is the first to admit he’s still growing as an artist. “I’m a novice,” he writes, adding, “What I am sure of is that each painting was done with a lot of care and respect.”
The exhibition Portraits of Courage will run through October 17 at the George W. Bush Presidential Center on the SMU campus in Dallas. The book (profits will be donated to the center’s military service initiatives) is available now.