TWENTY YEARS AGO, Hillary Clinton authored “It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us.” The 1996 book presented her vision for America’s children and the ways in which society can enable their success. In many ways, it was a blueprint for her life’s work up to that point, as a law student, legal aide lawyer, law professor, and First Lady of the United States. As such, it is fitting that the book appears in her official portrait as first lady. The painting by Simmie Knox, was unveiled on June 14, 2004, at the White House, alongside the presidential portrait of her husband, President Bill Clinton. Knox, the first African American artist to paint an official presidential portrait, made both works of art.

In the years since, Clinton served as a U.S. Senator from New York, Secretary of State in the Obama Administration, and now for the second time, she is pursuing the presidency. The Democratic party has emphasized that given Clinton’s domestic and international experience and policy priorities, she can be trusted with the future of America’s children.

The motto “It Takes a Village” has been a theme of the DNC convention this week, and as she accepted the Democratic nomination for president tonight—the first woman in history to do so for a major party—her speech built on the slogan “Stronger Together,” which resonates with the book’s message.

First Lady Hillary Clinton portrait by Simmie KnoxIn the portrait, “It Takes a Village” rests on a table beside a framed image of the White House. Clinton is wearing a black pant suit and her hair is styled in a chic, short cut with her hand resting on the back of a chair. The painting is currently on view in the Ground Floor Corridor of the White House.

NPR interviewed Knox when the Clinton portraits were presented and the artist said the details are important. “What you are trying to do is to tell a story and you have to summarize that person and that person’s life in one picture,” Knox said.

“What you are trying to do is to tell a story and you have to summarize that person and that person’s life in one picture.”
— Artist Simmie Knox, NPR

Knox earned an MFA from the Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia. He began his career as an abstract artist in the 1970s, and switched gears in 1981 when he began to focus on portraiture. Based in Silver Spring, Md., over the past 35 years, he has painted major figures in a variety of fields. His subjects have included an impressive list of government officials, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall; U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, New York Governor Mario Cuomo, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, New York Mayor David Dinkins, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, congressman, and cabinet secretaries, among them.

He has also painted Oprah Winfrey; Hank Aaron, Bill Cosby; HBCU presidents; Dorothy Height, the longtime president of the National Council of Negro Women; and historian and Duke University Professor John Hope Franklin, who served as founding chairman of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture Scholarly Advisory Committee.

In her remarks at the portrait unveiling, Clinton thanked President George W. Bush, who hosted the White House ceremony. She also gave appreciation to Knox, “for not only his wonderful work, but his extraordinarily calm and gentle manner…Simmie was more than understanding as he worked with us over the last several years. And I’m very grateful to him, not only for his artistry, but for his humanity,” she said.

“It is a somewhat daunting experience to have your portrait hung in the White House. It is something that really does, more than any other act, sort of, puts your place in history in this building for all the ages and all the people who come through here to see and reflect upon.” CT

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