Term: January 20, 2001 – January 20, 2009
Vice President: Dick Cheney
Home State: Texas
Wife: Laura Lane Welch
Children: Barbara Pierce & Jenna Welch Hager
During his unfocused early adulthood, few would have predicted that George Walker Bush would ever find himself in a position to send White House Christmas cards. Born in New Haven, Connecticut on July 6, 1946 and raised mainly in Midland and Houston, Texas, the diplomat’s son went on to earn a B.A. in History from Yale University in 1968, and an MBA from Harvard Business School in 1975. In the intervening years, he spent time in the Texas Air National Guard, where he flew F-102 fighter planes. In 1977 he married Laura Welch, a librarian and schoolteacher, and the couple would have two children, fraternal twins Barbara and Jenna.
After an unsuccessful congressional bid in 1978 and with the help of family connections, Bush entered the oil business. He helped found two small, independent oil exploration companies which were later taken over by large conglomerates after a decline in oil prices. Around the time of his 40th birthday, the wayward Bush gave up alcohol, turned to his Methodist faith, and described himself as a born-again Christian. He gained further political experience by working on his father’s successful 1988 presidential campaign and became managing general partner of baseball’s Texas Rangers in 1989. In 1994 he was elected governor of Texas, where he cut taxes and won a landslide re-election in 1998. In 2000, he won the Republican presidential nomination over John McCain. In the infamous general election, Bush lost the popular vote to incumbent Vice President Al Gore by 544,000. The state of Florida would determine who would win the Electoral College and become president. In the original tally, Bush had won the state by just over 1,700 votes, triggering an automatic recount. He was declared the winner of the Electoral College on December 9 when the U.S. Supreme Court stopped the count of disputed ballots with his lead down to just 537 votes.
For their first Christmas in the White House, First Lady Laura Bush enlisted the help of Hallmark Cards and classically-trained Texas artist Adrian Martinez to paint a White House-themed Presidential Christmas card. As a child who grew up only seven blocks from the White House, Martinez was intimately familiar with the exterior of the Executive Mansion. For the official card, he decided to paint an interior scene, which he felt would better exude a feeling of warmth. Impressed with an elegantly decorated corridor in the First Family’s private residence, he made a couple of sketches of the serene setting and sent them to the White House.
Martinez later learned that the White House decorations for that year would be white, gold, and silver. He then changed the color of the packages in his painting to reflect the holiday colors and included a Chinese porcelain lamp and a section of the 1908 Mary Cassatt painting, Young Mother and Two Children, in his sketch. He also included an English Regency chair next to a Chinese Chippendale side table, and enlarged the wall-mounted gilded Eagle wooden sconce to give balance to the scene. He adjusted the colors of some of the components for the best visual effect. According to Martinez, the painting was meant to evoke “the power and strength of the First Family, of this country and of our times… In the painting, I tried to convey a serene, contemplative, reflective self-confidence. To me, that is power – real power.” The finished work gave him “a great sense of accomplishment.” Mrs. Bush was thrilled with the results, commenting “I wanted an elegant card. I didn’t realize just how elegant it would be.”
After an eight-year hiatus, Hallmark returned to the Presidential Christmas cards arena for the 34th time. Produced at the company’s Lenexa, Kansas plant, the scripture which would appear on the insert was replaced with Psalm 27:3 at the behest of the First Lady after the September 11 terrorist attacks. The Psalm read, “Though a host should encamp against me, I shall not fear; though war shall rise against me, in this I will be confident.” Also included inside the White House Christmas cards above the holiday greeting were verses 8 and 13 from the same Psalm reading, “Thy face, Lord, do I seek” and “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!” The greeting itself read, “May happiness be yours during this season of goodwill and may the New Year bring peace on Earth. 2001.” Hallmark printed a record 870,000 presidential Christmas cards and 4,500 gift prints featuring the same design.
For the 2002 White House Christmas cards, Mrs. Bush selected Chinese-born artist Zhen-Huan Lu to create the artwork. Lu’s style combined European realism, French impressionism and traditional Chinese painting. Mr. Lu snapped 200 photographs in the White House and surrounding gardens in search of an ideal subject. In the Grand Foyer, the artist came upon a beautiful antique Steinway piano. Moving the piano in front of a sunlit window, Lu knew he had found his subject. He felt the scene evoked a “very romantic feeling and would be beautiful to paint.” Said Lu of the 1938 concert grand and its Honduran mahogany case, “I liked the eagles that made up the piano legs because they symbolized the spirit and patriotism of the country, especially after 9/11.” Part of the room’s gilded pier table and the delicately carved English mirror above it were added to the scene along with a basket of holiday poinsettias.
On September 20, a meeting which included Hallmark and the artist was held at the White House to make sure the intricate painting was reproduced with proper color hues. Proof sets of the composition were then shipped back and forth from Hallmark to Lu until he was satisfied with the final product. The Presidential Christmas cards design was entitled 1938 Steinway Piano in the Grand Foyer, The White House 2002. As would become custom, the Bushes included a scripture verse in their White House Christmas cards. For 2002, it was Psalm 100, verse 5: “For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.” The Christmas cads were also imprinted with the following greeting: “May love and peace fill your heart and home during this holiday season and throughout the new year. 2002.” A record 1.15 million individuals received the official 2002 White House Christmas cards. The ever-expanding list included heads of state, American ambassadors abroad, members of Congress, cabinet members, members of the Republican National Committee, and state Republican parties, supporters, volunteers, and friends.
The following year, the First Family chose watercolor artist Barbara Ernst Prey to compose their White House Christmas cards. The Oyster Bay, New York artist was considered one of the foremost active landscape artists in the country. Prey commented on being selected, “It was overwhelming to realize that you are going to be working on a commission that will be sent to all the leaders of the free world.” Of the First Lady, she said, “I have painted for over 30 years and have done many commissions in my life, but she was the easiest to work with. Mrs. Bush respects the creative process and gives the artist space.”
At first, a nighttime exterior backdrop was planned for the 2003 Presidential Christmas cards design. However, since several recent administrations had done the same, Mrs. Bush and the artist instead decided to focus on an interior scene, and narrowed their choices down to five rooms which Prey then sketched. So enamored with her work was the First Lady that she used her sketches of the Blue Room and the State Dining Room for party invitations later that year. For the White House Christmas cards, she selected a rendering of the Diplomatic Reception Room, featuring a lit fireplace flanked by a pair of Federal-style wingback armchairs upholstered in a rich golden fabric. On the mantel stood a fruit-studded holiday garland while a bowl of apples sat on a small tripod table next to one chair. George Washington, as portrayed by Gilbert Stuart, gazed down upon the scene from above the mantel. The room’s walls, adorned in panoramic “Views of North America” wallpaper with a vast array of colors, presented an ideal opportunity for the talented watercolorist. Mrs. Bush commented on the final product, “It really is a beautiful fireside that shows the friendliness and warmth of sitting with a friend or sitting in a chair reading by yourself.”
On November 28, 1.5 million of the official White House Christmas cards were mailed to friends and dignitaries alike. The scripture verse included was from Job 10:12: “You have granted me life and loving kindness, and your care has preserved my spirit.” The greeting read, “May you celebrate the joys of faith, family and friendship this holiday season and always. 2003.” More than 8,000 gift prints were also produced by Hallmark.
2004 was an election year. During the bruising campaign, President Bush and First Lady chose a 2003 painting of the White House’s Red Room composed by self-taught Texas artist Lori Holt as the artwork for their Presidential Christmas cards. Ms. Holt had previously produced a different tableau for then-governor Bush’s 1998 official Christmas cards. After unsuccessfully searching for an artist for months, Mrs. Bush viewed Holt’s existing painting online and found it to be “the perfect room for a Christmas card.”
Ms. Holt was contacted in June and asked if she could make a few modifications to the painting. The main alteration was changing the painting from a horizontal to a vertical orientation. In addition, the room’s doors were left slightly ajar, a music stand with a carved lyre design was added, as was the room’s traditional cranberry tree (in keeping with the Christmas theme). Unlike Red Room-themed White House Christmas cards designed for previous administrations, the chamber’s French Savonnerie rug was focused on in detail. In highlighting a musical theme, the Scripture verse chosen was Psalm 95:2: “Let us come before Him with Thanksgiving and extol Him with music and song.” The greeting read, “May songs of joy fill your home with warmth and your heart with happiness this holiday season. 2004.” To celebrate President Bush’s narrow election victory, the First Family upped their count of official White House Christmas cards to just over 2 million along with 11,000 gift prints.
For 2005, the Bushes chose an artist familiar with the task of creating official Presidential Christmas cards. Pennsylvania artist Jamie Wyeth had previously produced the art for President Reagan’s 1981 and 1984 White House Christmas cards – a nighttime view of the South Portico, and a lone squirrel approaching the North Portico, respectively. Wyeth commented on his White House experience, “I love the White House. To me, it’s the nation’s house. The White House never changes. What changes are the occupants and also their animals.” Wyeth decided to include the Presidential pets in his composition –
dogs Barney and Miss Beazley and cat India.
Featuring a snowy winter scene of the South Lawn, Wyeth chose an angled view of the Truman Balcony flanked by the magnolia tree which had been planted by Andrew Jackson in memory of his wife. Barney and Miss Beazley sat together on the snow-covered lawn, while India scampered off to the left. Hallmark again produced the White House Christmas cards, which included a verse from Psalm 28:7: “The Lord is my strength and my shield; In Him my heart trusts; So I am helped, and my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to Him.” The greeting that appeared read, “With best wishes for a holiday season of hope and happiness 2005.” A run of 1.28 million Presidential Christmas cards was mailed to recipients in a total of 200 countries, along with 7,400 gift prints.
In 2006, another Texas artist, James Blake, was chosen to design the official White House Christmas cards. Mrs. Bush suggested that the cards feature the Oval Office. Known for his still lifes and landscapes, Blake toured the executive mansion, taking photographs both inside and out. Back in his studio, Blake sketched and then painted an exterior view of the Oval Office on a snowy December day. Under a blue-gray sky, and flanked by snow-covered foliage, the lone bright spots in the painting were the yellow light shining thorough two tall windows on the curved exterior wall. Blake compared the glow coming from the President’s office as “the sun shining through the gloom,” and said it evoked an invitation to “come in from the cold when the day is winding down.” Blake admitted that he repositioned some trees and shrubs to create the best artistic effect, wanting to keep the painting “easygoing and loose.” Originally, Mrs. Bush had not wanted a blanket of snow in the painting, but she eventually came around, thanking the artist for “the beautiful Christmas card” in writing at the press party. Hallmark was again selected to produce the White House Christmas cards – a run of 985,000 along with 7,600 gift prints. The Scripture verse selected was Psalm 119:105: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” The greeting read, “May the light of the season shine bright in your heart now and in the new year.”
In 2007, New Mexico artist David Drummond was selected to design the Presidential Christmas cards. Drummond was a well-known watercolorist, famed for his dramatic landscapes. The setting would be the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, formerly known as the East Garden. Drummond composed a scene featuring the Sylvia Shaw Judson statue, Gardner, a four-foot bronze statue of a child standing at the edge of and looking out over the corner of a small concrete pool. A low snow-frosted hedge ran around the pool’s perimeter and an Osage Tree, with its branches bare for the winter and weaving a complex pattern at the top of the setting, standing behind the pool. Behind this scene, a decorated Christmas tree was visible through one of the large Bay windows of the President’s home. The bible verse selected for the White House Christmas cards was Nehemiah 9:6: “You alone are the LORD. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all that their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.” The greeting read, “May the joy of all creation fill your heart this blessed season.”
For their final Christmas in the White House, the Bushes chose Maine artist T. Allen Lawson to create the original artwork for their Presidential Christmas cards. Allen, who paints in oil and was also renowned for his landscape paintings, decided on a scene looking southward from the Truman Balcony, across The Ellipse – a northern offshoot of the National Mall. Halfway across the view, the Washington Monument stands regally at the left side of the painting, while the Jefferson Memorial is visible at the far end of the snow-covered expanse. In the foreground, a Christmas wreath with a red bow is hung from the black wrought-iron balcony railing, and two of the mansion’s white marble Ionic columns and the roof of the colonnade are visible. The bible verse included was Matthew 5:16: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” The greeting below this read, “May your heart and home be filled with the joys of the holiday season.”