• Mary Evans Seeley

The Choice of Presidents - The Green Room

Updated: Jul 26, 2019

Do you have a favorite room in the White House? The Green Room is one of the most treasured State parlors in the White House due to its color, furniture and paintings. Over the years, the First Families have used the Green Room as a parlor for hosting teas, small receptions and dinners to encourage informal conversation, and as a sitting or drawing room.

Due to its popularity, the Green Room was chosen by four Presidents and First Ladies to feature it on their official Christmas cards and gifts over the years. In order to tell the story of this presidential history, I chose the Green Room to feature on my 2019 annual White House Holidays Christmas ornament. It is the second in a series of White House room ornaments. The first, the Red Room ornament was introduced in 2018.

2019 White House Holidays Annual Ornament

Dwight Eisenhower enjoyed painting as a hobby and allowed six of his original creations to be used as Christmas gifts for his White House staff. Experiencing health issues midway through his administration, "Ike" gifted photographs instead of paintings for two years. In 1957, President and Mrs. Eisenhower chose a color photo of the Green Room as their staff gift.  The Eisenhowers' frameable Christmas gift was embossed with the Presidential Seal which also was the centerpiece of the carpet on the floor in the Green Room. The gift carried the sentiment: “With best wishes for a Happy Holiday Season.”

1957 Eisenhower Christmas Gift Print

Jacqueline Kennedy made extensive renovations to the White House, which included the Green Room.   When Mrs. Kennedy showcased her home to the nation on Valentine's Day, the Philadelphia Bulletin published watercolors of the State Rooms painted by their in- house illustrator.  When Mrs. Kennedy was made aware of Edward Lehman's art, she asked him to create additional paintings for her personal use. The Kennedy's decided to give the Green Room watercolor as their commemorative Christmas gift in 1963.

Hallmark reproduced 2300 gift prints with the sentiment: "With our appreciation and best wishes for a happy Christmas 1963." It included the printed signatures of John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy.  After John Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, the First Lady, in spite of her personal pain, decided to go ahead and give the planned gift as a special reminder of the President.

1963 Kennedy Gift Print

Twenty years later, Nancy Reagan began a search for a young American artist who could paint a detailed watercolor of the Green Room for the Reagan’s official Christmas card and gift in 1983.  By this juncture, the art on the official Christmas card and the frameable Christmas gift became one and the same. Interior Designer/artist Mark Hampton was chosen to do the honors. He was able to capture the detail in the French crystal chandelier, the Duncan Phyfe secretary with its colorful china, and the 1767 portrait of Benjamin Franklin that hung over the fireplace. Holiday greens, red candles, flowers on the tables and a wreath in the window added touches that said Christmas.

1983 Reagan Official Christmas Card

In 1996, Bill and Hillary Clinton chose Thomas McKnight for the third year in a row to complete their trio of Christmas cards and gifts. True to his contemporary style, McKnight added fantasy to the historically correct room. McKnight included his version of Benjamin Franklin’s portrait hanging above the fireplace. Over the china cabinet was a rendition of the McKnight’s backyard in Litchfield, CT. In order to include the fireplace and two windows on one canvas, also bringing the Washington Monument into view, the artist had to skew the perspective drastically.

To ensure historical accuracy, American Greetings reproduced the Green Room cards using fabric swatches of the draperies and furniture that the Clinton Administration had provided.

Another reason that I love the White House Green Room is that it houses a painting of an American landmark that was purchased for a mere $7.00. It hangs on the wall in the Green Room to honor John F. Kennedy. But that is the subject of another Seeley blog entitled "Greatest Bargain in American Paintings."

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