Is Nevada snubbing local artists?


The portrait painting of departing state governors often becomes thorny. It's not just the public dollars used ($20,000 in Nevada), it's that selected artists often reside elsewhere, leaving local artists, well, pissed. That trend continued with the selection of Washington-based artist Michelle Rushworth to paint the official portrait of Jim Gibbons. The selection prompted the usual surge of complaints, many of which were fielded by the Nevada Arts Council that oversees the process.

So what gives? Requirements. Artists must be professionals who have completed at least two similarly commissioned portraits and prove they can finish the work in required time.

Only a short list of Nevada artists (19 of them) even met qualifications, says Teresa Moiola, spokeswoman for the Nevada Arts Council.

"Portrait artistry is a very specific craft," she added. "It's not stylized and it's very distinctive. They're classically trained."

Often, the artists run in the circuit of government, corporate and academic portraits.

Kenny Guinn's portrait, by Michelle Rushworth

Rushworth, who also painted Kenny Guinn's portrait, painted governors of Wyoming and Washington.

A Gibbons finalist, Ned Bittinger of Santa Fe., N.M., painted a governor of Virginia, several federal judges and a U.S. senator. The other finalist, John Ennis of Yardley, Pa., has completed more than 25 corporate commissions.

Finding a Nevada artist to paint a governor portrait has yet to happen (in recent years, anyway). South African artist Robert Meyer painted portraits of Governors Bob Miller and Robert List. California resident Tom Clark painted the portrait of Gov. Mike O'Callaghan. Daniel E. Green of New York painted the portrait of Governor Laxalt. And so on.

In terms of public money spent. When it comes to public money spent, there's an easy alternative. The governors are more than welcome to raise their own funds.

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Kristen Peterson

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