By John Lauritsen

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — North Minneapolis native Mark Balma has met with – and painted – four U.S. presidents, including the late George H.W. Bush.

He’s working on his fifth right now of President Barack Obama.

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“It’s a very intimate thing, a portrait. Especially when you start to work directly with someone from life,” Balma said.

And that’s what happened in 1996 when Balma began a portrait of our 41st president. He met George H.W. Bush inside the oval office, where he got to know him not just as a former president, but as a person.

“He’d say to his secretary, ‘Hold all the calls.’ And we’d be there for 45 minutes with nobody interrupting us,” Balma said.

The two men hit it off. Balma also met other members of President Bush’s cabinet, and they also ended up in the portrait. Balma said it was Colin Powell who told him to look for the president’s signature expression.

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“I would see him do this gesture where he would put his fist inside his hand and turn his head slightly. And every time I said, “OK, there it is,’” Balma said.

It took Balma a year of meetings, sketching and painting before the portrait, called “Resolution,” was complete.

It now hangs in the Bush Library in Houston, Texas.

The President himself liked it so much, he sent Balma a thank you note, teasing him that he should have given National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft a few more wrinkles.

“He was just a great human, a person to connect with. Was very warm and welcoming and it really helped make the portrait a success,” Balma said.

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Balma was also invited to the Bush’s family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, where Barbara Bush gave final approval of the portrait.

John Lauritsen