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Official portrait of governor unveiled

CARSON CITY — A $20,000 portrait of Gov. Jim Gibbons was hung on a wall near the entrance of the state Capitol on Friday, with the soon-to-be ex-governor nowhere in sight.

Gibbons, who suffered a broken pelvis in a Sept. 21 horse-riding accident, decided to stay a mile away in the Governor’s Mansion rather than participate in a public portrait unveiling ceremony as past governors have done.

The 60-inch-by-44-inch portrait shows a smiling Gibbons, attired in a gray suit and blue tie, standing by a window with his right hand on a book.

In the background is a small painting of the F-4 Phantom jet that Gibbons flew in the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

Gibbons, then an assemblyman from Reno, received national attention when he temporarily left his legislative seat to go on active duty with the Nevada National Guard and fight in Kuwait. He also flew for the Air Force during the Vietnam War.

Bystanders who watched three state Buildings and Grounds workers hang the portrait said it looked like a picture more than other governor portraits. The frame also is far less ornate than those around the other portraits.

“He didn’t want a big ceremony,” said Gibbons’ spokesman Daniel Burns about the governor’s absence.

Gibbons still is undergoing daily therapy sessions and did not want “any fanfare,” he said.

But the governor walked into a Western Governors’ Association meeting Dec. 7 at The Venetian in Las Vegas. He has been absent from the Capitol since his accident except for a brief appearance in his office last week.

But Gibbons has seen the finished portrait. He unveiled it himself Thursday night in a party at the mansion for members of his Cabinet, former staff members and a few friends. Thursday was Gibbons’ 66th birthday.

“He was really pleased with it,” said Steve Robinson, the head of Gibbons’ transition team. “He thinks he is the only governor who is smiling.”

Gibbons’ is almost right. Charles Russell, the governor in the 1950s, also smiles in his portrait.

In most of the paintings, hung throughout the first and second floors of the Capitol, governors look sullen, almost angry.

There are portraits of all 30 men who have been governor, including Isaac Roop. Roop never was an official governor, but in 1859 was named by a group as provisional territorial governor when Susanville, Calif., was thought to have been part of what became Nevada.

Gibbons’ portrait painter — Seattle area artist Michel Rushworth — also was not on hand when her painting was hung.

Rushworth said in a phone interview that her father was ill and she decided to stay at home rather than travel to snowy Carson City.

She also was commissioned to paint Gov. Kenny Guinn’s portrait and has done portraits of one Washington governor and five governors of Wyoming. Rushworth said she took pictures of Gibbons in Carson City before his horse-riding accident. She also painted a small portrait of what the larger painting would look like to show Gibbons her plan.

“He was very friendly,” said Rushworth, who also e-mailed the governor’s staff about her progress. “The process went very smoothly. There is a lot of Nevada blue in it. I view this as a collaborative process.”

An artist for 25 years, Rushworth said she has concentrated exclusively on portraits for the last nine years. Besides governors, she has painted several other portraits, including Admiral Thad Allen, who oversaw the cleanup of the British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last summer.

Rushworth was chosen to paint Gibbons’ portrait in August after Nevada Arts Council members reviewed the work of 44 artists. She was paid $17,500 for the portrait, along with $2,500 for the frame and travel expenses.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@
reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.

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