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Presidential portrait exhibit a grand gesture

Artistic achievements made together in Hingham community

Created date

April 23rd, 2013

At Linden Ponds, grand ideas have a way of growing grander. In 2012, a tribute to Abraham Lincoln featured a 12-foot-tall iconic statue of the president and a series of events commemorating his life. This year, a month-long President s Day exhibit presented a similarly immersive experience, this time honoring the first 16 U.S. presidents with artistic renderings, biographical information, and artifacts. Not content to stop there, Linden Ponds artists, led by Burt Longenbach, are at work on additional installments, with the goal of completing portraits of all 44 U.S. presidents over the next two years.

Transformed hall

This year s exhibit began when Linden Ponds Community Resources Manager Joseph McStowe approached Burt, a resident painter and teacher, wondering if some of the residents were interested in doing something to enhance and enlarge the [previous year s] exhibit, Burt recalls. Burt, an award-winning artist who teaches watercolor painting at Linden Ponds, proposed creating a 6- by 8-foot watercolor portrait of George Washington to match the Lincoln portrait he painted for the previous year s exhibit, and 18- by 24-inch charcoal drawings of the presidents in-between. He shared the idea with some of his Linden Ponds students: Judy Fockenier, Ann O Malley, Hilda Peirce, and Charles Vaughan. This February, the Linden Ponds art gallery was transformed into the Hall of Presidents. Below red and blue lights and a trim of stars and stripes, each president from Washington to Lincoln was represented with a portrait. Burt s regal watercolor portraits of Washington and Lincoln were framed by large white columns. Using a centuries-old grid system, Burt painted small, rectangular sections of the two portraits that he later assembled into the whole. The paintings each evolved over a week and a half of six-to-eight-hour workdays in Burt s second bedroom, which he uses as an art studio. The two large-scale paintings bookended 14 charcoal drawings by Burt, Judy, Ann, Hilda, and Charles. People here were very generous and very complimentary; it was very flattering, Hilda says of the reception to the exhibit. Everyone here seemed to enjoy the show a lot. It was very gratifying. Adds Burt: For those that have an interest in and talent for and a skill for painting, there s a pleasure and achievement in the response from residents and staff and the public. There s a return one derives from it.

Joy of teaching

Burt s nearly eight years of teaching at Linden Ponds follows 39 years of teaching in public schools as well as in adult education and community-based workshops. His enjoyment in the project came from the teaching opportunity and the confidence in his Linden Ponds students who were involved. The four here are excelling individuals in the general realm of art. That s the joy of teaching, he says. The joy and satisfaction comes from working with people and the achievements that we make together. Those efforts continue as the artists complete the 15 images between Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR), the two large-scale paintings that Burt will display next year. This spring and summer, the painters will also begin the 11 presidents between FDR and Barack Obama for the following year s installation. It ll be really challenging as we go from FDR to Obama, Hilda says. That s when all the presidents will be familiar to people. If we goofed up on Millard Fillmore, most people won t know the difference. Into the 1900s, it s going to be a different story. It ll be challenging. I look forward to it.

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