He sits on his desk with law books on his left and a family portrait and Bible on his right. With a casual smile and unbuttoned suit jacket, Vice President Mike Pence’s official portrait as governor of Indiana aims to show a man serving the state, not the federal government.
It also reflects his Christian faith and family focus.
“The portrait is really just about paying tribute to all those who are not the subject of the portrait,” Pence said Friday at the painting’s unveiling at the Statehouse.
Pence, the state’s governor from 2013-17, was accompanied at the unveiling by Second Lady Karen Pence, his daughter Audrey Pence, his mother Nancy Pence and Gov. Eric Holcomb and his wife, Janet. State and local officials also attended. The event was open to the public, drawing about 300 people to the south atrium.
After his mother, wife and daughter removed draping to unveil the portrait, Pence’s voice cracked with emotion as he gave his remarks.
He explained the significance behind the objects in the background. The flags are his tribute to the Americans and Hoosiers that he has served, and his law books, which he inherited from his late father, Edward Pence, are a tribute to his parents.
The Bible is open to one of Pence’s favorite passages, 1 Kings 3:9: “So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”
It is the same Bible that he used to take his oath of office in January as he was sworn in as vice president.
“I always thought that was a particularly apt verse for the people in Indiana,” he said.
A portrait is always painted of each Indiana governor after his tenure, a tradition dating back to 1869. The Indiana Governors’ Portrait collection now contains 54 paintings.
The Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites, which coordinates the collection, selected portrait artist Mark Dillman in March out of 30 artists, who are required to be residents or natives of Indiana, or a graduate of an Indiana institution of higher education.
Dillman, an Indianapolis native and graduate of the Herron School of Art and Design at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, had no idea he would also be doing the portrait of the nation’s vice president when he submitted the application in September.
“I was as shocked as anybody and overjoyed, but no, I had no idea,” he said.
Dillman, his wife and Mark Ruschman, the museum’s chief curator of fine arts, traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet Pence and his wife at their residence to take photographs, which would be used as a guide to the painting.
Dillman said he told Pence in advance that he wanted to give him a pleasant and dignified look instead of a traditional toothy smile. There were poses on the photographs that were more serious, but Pence chose one where he appears with a more casual, friendly look, Dillman said.
“(Pence) thought that things are a bit more serious in Washington, D.C., than back here in the Hoosier state. That’s one reason he wanted that friendlier, more casual appearance,” Dillman said.
Pence further explained that the consensus choice of everyone was the picture in which he smiles. He said in his emotional speech that his wife Karen, who also designed his tie, had stepped into the room while he was being photographed. The picture where he smiles is the moment in which he looked at her, he said.
“Thank you for putting that smile on my face,” Pence said. He continued thanking God for the opportunities he has had, mentioning the importance of prayer and family throughout his speech.
Dillman said the portrait shows his personality as governor, as a “man of the people,” showing a love of faith, family and tradition.
Dillman adopted a talent for portrait painting in the 1970s where he met his mentor, Edmund Brucker. Dillman repeated Brucker’s portrait painting class for six years in a row, instead of following the regular curriculum.
The artist also painted the portrait of Joseph E. Kernan, Indiana’s 48th governor, as well as retired Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard, university presidents and other public figures. But he said it was challenging to step away from his studio, where his clients usually go to take photographs, and take his studio elements to D.C.
“It paid off,” he added. “By far, the biggest job I’ve ever done.”
Pence told the crowd that he intended to keep serving the state and the country for years to come.
“Let me say that wherever we go in our lives and our service for the next 7½ years as vice president of the United States or beyond, I want the people of Indiana to know that you’re always in our hearts and the depth of gratitude is inexpressible,” he added.
This story was published in The Indianapolis Star Aug. 11, 2017.