Home 5 Ag Stories Vilsack Painting By Iowa Artist Reveals Many Things

Vilsack Painting By Iowa Artist Reveals Many Things

Credit goes to Jerry Hagstrom

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Artist Rose Frantzen and her painting of Secretary Vilsack

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s portrait, to be hung in the patio of the Agriculture Department’s Jamie Whitten headquarters building, is unusual in both the way it was painted and in the contents of the portrait itself.

To paint the portrait, Vilsack chose native Iowa artist Rose Frantzen, whose work is in the permanent collections of the World Food Prize in Rome and many American museums.

Frantzen says, “My take on my time with the Secretary and as well as all the people in the office is that Secretary Vilsack is so respected for how much he likes to work, and how well he performs his job as our secretary of agriculture. I think that you can imagine that goes to his role as governor. He should be painted working. While I was painting the painting, he was actually working.”

In 2009 and 2010, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery exhibited “Portrait of Maquoketa,” Frantzen’s yearlong project in which she invited everyone in her hometown of Maquoketa, Iowa, to sit and be painted, which resulted in 180 portraits. In 2013, the portraits were incorporated into an installation, pairing them with a 315 square foot landscape view of the town painted on multiple panels that come together as one from a single point of view. The installation is now part of the permanent collection of the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa.

Vilsack’s staff explained to The Hagstrom Report that Frantzen does not paint from photographs. Her painting of Vilsack involved multiple sittings, but she was also given objects that are in the painting, as well as the suit and tie Vilsack wears in the painting. When she returned the suit and tie, Vilsack was surprised to get them back because he had forgotten he gave them to her, and believed that a cleaner had lost them, an aide said.

After the unveiling today, Vilsack explained that he considered the painting to be a portrait of the Agriculture Department itself, not just a painting of him.

The painting includes many interesting objects:
▪ Vilsack is shown holding a cell phone and with a tablet computer on the desk in front of him, noting his embrace of digital technology.
▪ The framed Image on the wall, upper left, is a photo of Agriculture Secretary Henry Wallace and Professor George Washington Carver, from the National Archives.
▪ Below that, the iIllustration of President Abraham Lincoln was given to him by his friend, the late Lennis Moore.
▪ The large roll of parchment in front of Lincoln is is the Iowa Code from 1927, an artwork by an Iowa artist.
▪ A plant-based bottle of Dasani water represents the USDA Bio-Preferred program resting on a wooden coaster developed by the U.S. Forest Service Forest Products Lab.
▪ In his inbox is the graphic from the “Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill” food safety campaign that the Ad Council rolled out in 2010.
▪ The leather portfolio folder at his left elbow was given to him by President Barack Obama early in his tenure.
▪ In front of Vilsack is a blown glass globe is by Josh Simpson, a glass artist who graduated from Hamilton College in 1972, the same year as Vilsack and his wife, Christie.
▪ The steel corn grenade is a gift from former NBC News president Michael Gartner, former editor of the Ames Tribune.
▪ Pens are gifts from Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who worked with Vilsack on biofuels, and Olusegun Obasanjo, the former president of Nigeria, when he was governor of Iowa.
▪ The small statue of soldier, behind him at right, was awarded to him by the Iowa National Guard when he was governor of Iowa. It is the highest award given by the National Guard to a civilian.
▪ Behind Vilsack at right is the “My Plate” graphic developed during the Obama administration to encourage people to build a healthy diet by eating proper portions of fruit, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy products.