By Barbara Burgess for The Island Connection
Seabrook artist Mary Whyte had a surprise note in her mail one day. Her manager called her and said: “You are not going to believe who wrote to you today.” It turns out to have been a handwritten note from former President George W. Bush. Mary had sent the former President a book of an art exhibit of hers called the “Working South.” She had seen a book he wrote called “Portraits of Courage: A commander in chief’s tribute to America’s warriors.” It is a portrait of 66 former soldiers who had been wounded. The President painted head and shoulder portraits of each veteran and wrote about each one. Mary was moved by his book and she wrote to the President wishing him well in his endeavors. She hardly expected to hear back from him, so his return note came as a great surprise. His note said: “Dear Mary, You’ve picked the hardest medium, watercolors. Next time you’re in Dallas let’s talk “art.” He enclosed the card and telephone number of his personal assistant. Mary called the assistant and was surprised when she said: “Oh yes. You’re the artist.” They proceeded to pick a day when a visit would be possible. The assistant helped Mary get a hotel room in Dallas close to the Presidential Library. Mary had to be vetted to get through Security.
Mary called the assistant before she left, asking what the appropriate dress would be. The assistant let her know the President would be in a suit that day as he had appointments later in the day. Mary wore a navy blue suit, with a rhinestone pin on her shoulder that depicted the American flag.
George W. Bush has a presidential library and museum located on the campus of Southern Methodist University. Mary was able to walk to the Library from her hotel, and she was met by the Assistant to the Chief of Staff. The Personal Assistant escorted Mary to Bush’s office, which is nicely decorated with some antique furniture, plus paintings mostly by Texas artists. Coffee appeared immediately and the conversation centered primarily on painting. Bush asked how long she had been painting, what artists did she admire most, which ones had most affected her work. They asked each other what paintings they were working on at the moment. They talked about Winston Churchill who had taken up painting during his career as a politician and written a book on it. It is called “Painting as a Pastime” and when you look it up on the web it shows next to George W. Bush’s book on wounded warriors.
He mentioned to Mary that he had tried watercolors but couldn’t master it. Mary said she would be in Dallas in the future teaching a course on watercolors and Bush said, “Lets get together and paint.”
Bush asked Mary if she had seen his book. She said she had but only a friend’s copy. He gave her a copy of the book, which he signed:
“From one artist to a really fine artist.”
Mary took a picture of the autographed page putting her pin of the American flag in the upper corner.
The Chief of Staff personally escorted Mary to the Bush Museum. Only 20 Presidents have a presidential museum and Mary spent 2 hours going through it. The museum is open to the public. It is filled with Bush memorabilia such as a butterfly ballot from Palm Beach, Florida, a replica of Mr. Bush’s Oval Office, the bullhorn he used at ground zero and a gnarled steel beam from the World Trade Center demolished on September 11, 2001.