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'The Republican Club' Painter Andy Thomas On How His Work Ended Up In The White House


Among the revelations of the interview that President Trump just gave to "60 Minutes" is that hanging on the walls of the White House, the president has placed a picture of himself in the company of past Republican presidents. Some of them sit at a table in a crowded room. There are drinks. Looks like Trump is drinking a Diet Coke. And they all seem to be laughing - Ike, Reagan, Teddy Roosevelt, both Bushes, Ford, Nixon and Lincoln. It's called "The Republican Club," and it was painted by Andy Thomas, who joins me now from Springfield, Mo. Andy Thomas, welcome.

ANDY THOMAS: Well, thank you for having me.

KELLY: When did you first find out that your painting was hanging in the White House?

THOMAS: It was Sunday night. I finally settled down and was watching the football game. And Dina had checked her social media, and...

KELLY: Dina is your wife.

THOMAS: Yeah, Dina is my wife.

KELLY: OK, go on.

THOMAS: Actually my phone had been ringing quite a bit, and it was reporters. But I thought it was robocalls.

KELLY: (Laughter) Right.

THOMAS: So I wasn't answering.

KELLY: Plus you're in the middle of a football game. So there's more important stuff going on.

THOMAS: That's right (laughter).

KELLY: And you started learning that "The Republican Club," which you had painted, had been hung by President Trump, who at some point called you himself. What happened?

THOMAS: Well, Darrell Issa, who's become a friend to Dina and I...

KELLY: This is the congressman Darrell Issa.

THOMAS: Yes, from California.


THOMAS: He had told us early in the summer that he was going to try to - at some point he would show the painting to President Trump. And apparently he had told Dina that he had a 5 o'clock appointment, so Dina sent me a text and just said, you need to be around the house around 4 o'clock, 4 o'clock Central Time.

KELLY: She didn't tell you why.

THOMAS: No, no.

KELLY: (Laughter).

THOMAS: So I was out mowing the lawn. I came in. I had clippings all over. And I came in. I said, well, what did I need to be around for? And she said, well, Darrell's showing the painting to the president. And I thought, that's a long shot. I'll just wait a few minutes and go finish the lawn. But they - indeed he did call and was very gracious.

KELLY: And what did he say? What did - about the painting?

THOMAS: He's a tough man to paint, so I can sympathize with this. He said, I've seen a lot of paintings of me, and I really usually don't like them. But I really like this one. I didn't bother tell him that I'd painted his face two or three times, you know, to...

KELLY: Yeah, well, you said...

THOMAS: ...Get something I was happy with.

KELLY: ...He's a hard man to paint. How come?

THOMAS: Well, like, my family has dark eyebrows, dark eyes. You know, there's something to grab a hold of. With President Trump, you know, his hair and his face and his eyebrows - you know, there's no darks. You know, so it was a challenge - and getting the right smile.

KELLY: I don't think I'd be offending anyone if I pointed out that he looks a little bit slimmer in the painting than he perhaps does in real life.

THOMAS: (Laughter) Well...

KELLY: No wonder he liked it.

THOMAS: That's true. But several years ago - this is his third version of this - of these paintings that I've done. And I decided on the very first one that I would try to make each man as good looking as I could and still be recognizable. And so I flatter them all if I can.

KELLY: How come?

THOMAS: Because when - I do it when I even did a self-portrait one time. I looked like Clark Gable when it got.

KELLY: (Laughter).

THOMAS: It just - you know, there's just an inclination to - you know, I like people, and I don't want to point out flaws in them.

KELLY: I need to ask you about something going on in this painting. It looks as though President Trump is grinning at something that Abe Lincoln is saying to him. You can't quite tell, but you can just see - you see Lincoln in profile. What are they talking about?

THOMAS: I would like to believe that Lincoln was using that great wit that he had and has told a - you know, some insightful thing that was funny. And Donald Trump is responding to it, and everybody - you know, try to add the whole table involved in the conversation or the feeling, the moment.

KELLY: That's Andy Thomas. He painted "The Republican Club," which features the current president and his GOP predecessors and which is hanging in the White House. Andy Thomas, thank you very much.

THOMAS: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.