Arizona is final stop for George W. Bush Portraits of Courage traveling exhibition

The Arizona Historical Society and Sandra Day O’Connor Institute will host a special exhibit from the George W. Bush Institute.

Running from Oct. 9 to Dec. 29 Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors will be on display at the Arizona Historical Society’s Arizona Heritage Center at Papago Park, one of only four venues selected to host the paintings in 2018.

Our mission is really about connecting with people through history and, you know, history happens every day and what [these veterans have] been through, that’s part of our history as well,” Tawn Downs, Vice President of Marketing and Communications, Arizona Historical Society, said. “This is a wonderful way for us to tell the story about these veterans and the sacrifices that they’ve made and, more importantly, their resilience as they’ve recovered from their various physical and emotional wounds.”

Portraits of Courage grew out of President Bush’s personal commitment to honor and tell the stories of veterans who fought in the Middle East after 9/11.

“I painted these men and women as a way to honor their service to the country and to show my respect for their sacrifice and courage,” President Bush said in the video accompanying the exhibit.  

Arizona is very important in the military. A lot of these folks have gone through Arizona in their way and then we have a couple of them who live here,” Ambassador Barbara Barrett said. “I just worked [President George W. Bush] over, I said ‘you gotta come to Arizona,’ and he did.”

One of the painting subjects who came through the state is Israel Del Toro, who, according to Downs, lived in Arizona for many years.

“He was severely burned in just a horrific accident, and quite disfigured,” Downs said. “For many years he felt like he should have died because he was afraid his disfigurement would be traumatic for his family and his children and others seeing him. Since, he has come out of that and recovered, and he [was] actually here for the opening reception.”

The exhibit contains “sixty-six full-color portraits and a four-panel mural all painted by President Bush of 98 service members and veterans who have served our nation with honor since 9/11, and whom the President has come to know personally since leaving office.”

I was walking into the studio full of these paintings of the wounded warriors. There were a lot of them there already and he began to tell me about each of their stories,” Sedrick Huckaby, one of President Bush’s art instructors, said. “We’d look at each painting and he would tell me their stories. I found it very touching that he knew so much about what they’d gone through and what they had done to survive.”

Each of the paintings are accompanied by the inspiring story of the subject, as written by President Bush, as well as featured in a hardcover book, by the same name, that are available at the museum.

It’s an important reminder that we owe our freedom to people who have selflessly signed up,” Ambassador Barrett said. “It’s a fun and lively artistic endeavor, it’s an occasion to bring the President to Arizona, and it’s an occasion to think about the people who have signed up. I think that’s the most important part, the people of Arizona coming together to pay tribute with the Commander-in-Chief to the people who put their lives on the line.”

There will also be resources and information created by the Bush Institute’s Military Service Initiative that visitors can read to learn about how to support veterans in their community.

For more information about the exhibition and admission prices click here. For information on related programming at the museum, including “Painting with the President” with Sedrick Huckaby, click here.

Emily Richardson

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