• Mary Evans Seeley

Only in America Could This Dream Come True

Interviewing artists who painted Christmas cards for the President and First Lady was one of the most rewarding aspects of writing my book. One of the most interesting stories was told by a local DC boy who came full circle.

Adrian Martinez grew up in a neighborhood just seven blocks from the White House. He was very familiar with the house, but had never been inside. He described himself as “a walking kid – I must have walked past it 10,000 times. What stayed with him over the years were the memories of large black cars coming and going through imposing iron gates.

He also lived near the National Gallery of Art and the various museums that made up the Smithsonian Institution. Museums became his second home. It was there he developed a love for the arts. After college he got a job working at one of the museums before moving to Texas where he worked as an exhibit designer and learned to paint. One of his paintings was placed on loan in the Texas Governors Mansion. The Bushes loved Approaching Storm and purchased it for their ranch house.

When the Governor became President, the First Lady invited him to return to Washington in March 2001 to paint their official Christmas card. Martinez admitted “That is when I really began to sweat the big drop.”

“He almost wept when I first met him in the White House,” Mrs. Bush recalled. He was here in this beautiful home walking around to get inspired. Over lunch, Laura Bush told him she had complete confidence in his ability and did not give him any guidelines.

He was given a stack of previous Christmas cards, most of which were done in watercolors. That made him nervous, because he was a classically-trained artist who painted in oils. Captivated by an elegantly decorated corridor in the Bushes private quarters, he made a few sketches and sent them to the White House.

Upon learning that the colors for the holiday decorations would be gold, silver and white, he incorporated those colors into the packages on the chair and floor. The composition included a Chinese porcelain lamp, a portion of a Mary Cassart, painting, a wooden eagle sconce, the wainscoting on the wall and the carpet.

In July the artist, his wife and son were invited to the White House. After the family was given a tour, the President asked to meet with them. President Bush expressed his sincere appreciation for his paintings. In our interview, Adrian shared that it was one of the greatest moments in his life. Sharing the moment with his family was just perfect.

While in the White House, Martinez had flash backs to the days of his non- affluent boyhood- - the memories of being on the outside. Never in his youth could he ever have imagined being on the inside looking out. He recalled the first time a White House car brought him through the imposing gates to the Executive Mansion. It was all very emotional; the mystery was gone and now he was on the inside and treated with respect – only in America could such a dream come true.

The Bushes loved his work; added a personal sentiment and a scripture

That had special meaning after the terrorist attack on US soil. Scripture became the Bushes signature touch. They had done it in the Governor’s mansion continued their tradition in the White House.

What childhood experience has influenced you and made you what you are today? Are you living out the American dream?

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