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Painter Adjusting to Idea of Unveiling Clinton Portrait

June 13, 2004|From Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Simmie Knox, the first black artist to paint an official presidential portrait, is preparing to unveil his oil painting of former President Clinton in a ceremony Monday at the White House.

"My mind hasn't completely wrapped around it yet," Knox said in a telephone interview from his Silver Spring, Md., home. "Just imagine: I was born in 1935 in Aliceville, Ala., a sharecropper, and now I'm painting the president. Can you imagine that?"

The self-taught artist, best-known for his portraits of black celebrities such as baseball legend Hank Aaron and comedian Bill Cosby, also will unveil a painting of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), the former first lady.

Knox, who met with Clinton just before he left office, said he felt especially connected to the former president because they grew up under similar circumstances -- in poor families in the segregated South.

"I think that's why he has the compassion that he has," Knox said. "He knows how it feels to have lived a certain life and to have been deprived of things."

At Clinton's request, the oil painting is set in the Oval Office. It will be the first presidential portrait in the White House collection to include the American flag.

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