Emory Report
February 21, 2005
Volume 57, Number 20


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February 21, 2005
Portrait of a former president as an artist

Jon moor is associate director of public information for the carter center

Former President Jimmy Carter has discovered yet another outlet for his creative impulses: painting. Artistic expression has filled the president’s life in the form of writing, woodworking and winemaking, and for 13 years his various creations—and countless other collectibles—have been auctioned through the Carter Center website (www.cartercenter.org) and annual Winter Weekend event to support the center’s work in waging peace, fighting disease and building hope.

During this year’s Winter Weekend auction (held Feb. 12 in Snowbird, Utah) Carter’s painting, “The Carter Center,” drew a top bid of $200,000, the highest of any item on the block. The former president recently answered some questions about his painting and his other activities.

Q: What was your process for this oil painting?
Carter: I took several photographs around the Carter Center grounds and chose this scene as the best. It took two to three weeks to complete in August 2004. I’ve completed several other paintings since then. Still more are under way.

How long have you been painting, and how did you get into it?
I did a few paintings many years ago, having inherited some oils and an instruction book from when I was in the Navy.

What was your first painting?

The interior of a mountain cabin, [which I did] one afternoon while my wife was shopping. My first painting in recent times was the cover of my novel, The Hornet’s Nest.

What sources of feedback do you get on your paintings?

Lately, I have consulted with the dean of the art department at Georgia Southwestern State University. Also my wife, Rosalynn, is an avid and helpful critic of my work.

Have you ever tried portraits?

I’ve done several scenes of my boyhood farm and around the town of Plains. My self-portrait, the first ever painted by any president, was included with those of Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin in “Peace,” a depiction of the historic agreement reached in the Camp David Accords in 1979. I’ve also painted my wife, Rosalynn, daughter Amy, grandson Hugo, and [another] self-portrait when I was 80 years old.

How do you find time to paint, what with writing, woodworking, winemaking, church work, family and, of course, all the travel and work at the Carter Center?
I’m an early riser, and during the all-too-few days at home, I often write until I get tired or bored, and then go a few steps to my shop, where I build furniture or paint. Also, taking care of our family farms and woodlands, and being a good citizen of Plains, give me a lot of interesting challenges.

What artists do you especially appreciate?
El Greco has been a favorite all my life, and I especially like Van Gogh.

How do you rate your own work as art?

I consider myself a beginner, eager to try new things and improving as an artist as time goes by.

Are there any other talents/hobbies we don’t know about yet?

Rosalynn and I enjoy dancing, biking, tennis, jogging, bird watching, hiking and skiing, as well.

This year’s Winter Weekend raised $875,036 to help support the Carter Center’s work to advance peace and health worldwide. The silent auction raised a record $42,936.55, with more online bidders than ever before. In addition to Carter’s painting, other top bids included: $77,500 for a signed photo of Presidents Bill Clinton, Gerald Ford, Carter and George H.W. Bush; $75,000 for another signed photo of those same presidents; $45,000 for a weeklong cruise on a 152-foot luxury yacht; and $40,000 for a diamond cross pendant.

“Rosalynn and I are grateful for the support our partners and friends show for the center during our annual auction each year,” Carter said.

Next year’s auction will be held Feb. 4, 2006; there’s no word yet on what artistic creation Carter will offer up for bid.