Washington portrait unveiled at Mahoning County Courthouse


By JUSTIN DENNIS

jdennis@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

U.S. founding father George Washington towered astride a white horse Wednesday afternoon in the Mahoning County Courthouse rotunda.

His likeness, part of a detailed allegorical painting titled “Divine Providence,” was the work of local painter Ray Simon. That painting will soon change how students learn about the first U.S. president, Simon said.

“What a portrait of history we have here,” said Mayor Jamael Tito Brown, as local veterans and politicians gathered for a first look at the painting, which had its formal unveiling in the historic courthouse, but will not remain there.

Simon said the 7-foot-tall portrait, which uses allegorical symbols to portray Washington’s life and the founding of the nation, was “the hardest painting he’s ever done.” It took two months to illustrate each grain of the wheat field beneath Washington, with its amber waves patterned with the 13 stars and stripes of the U.S. colonial flag.

At the portrait’s fore, a young girl in an 18th-century gown crossing from that field represents the next generation of Americans. She’s releasing 13 doves, one for each original colony – the first of which is carrying an olive branch, symbolizing peace.

Under direction of the painting’s “wealthy” underwriter, Simon also spent two months working with historical curators and an archivist in Mount Vernon, Va., and even stayed a night at Washington’s estate, he said.

The painting will become a permanent fixture at the George Washington Presidential Library and Museum in Mount Vernon by early next year – possibly in time for Washington’s Feb. 22 birthday, Simon said.

But it’s for more than just wall-hanging.

A multimedia element allows students to hunt for dozens other metaphors pertaining to Washington’s life and the Revolutionary War that are hidden within the painting, and hear narrations about their meanings which meet national history education standards, Simon said.

“You could spend hours looking at this and all the references it has,” said Ron Johnson, an Austintown Middle School history teacher who addressed those in the rotunda in traditional colonial military garb.

U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson of Marietta, R-6th, spoke on Washington’s vision for the country and said though recent national headlines may make it seem “the wheels are falling off” in the Capitol, the nation is “far from that.”

“The strength of our nation is not in government or institutions, rather, it’s in the American spirit – the heartbeat of our nation,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, said the work is a reminder of the importance of art programs in local schools, which are some of the first to be cut during a budget crunch.

“You always see history framed by artists,” he said.

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