Snoops, Schaefer portraits both to hang in mansion

February 19, 1994|By Robert Timberg | Robert Timberg,Sun Staff Writer

Gov. William Donald Schaefer and his longtime companion, Hilda Mae Snoops, have had their official portraits painted, thanks to friends, lobbyists and political associates whose tax-deductible contributions covered the total $40,000 price tag.

Mrs. Snoops, in a brief telephone interview last night, said the portraits are to be unveiled in November, then hang together on the walls of the Governor's Mansion until January, when Mr. Schaefer's successor is inaugurated.

After that, she said, the governor's portrait will be hung in the State House, the traditional location of paintings of departing chief executives, "and mine goes to the Archives."

Zelig Robinson, the governor's personal lawyer and counsel to the foundation that paid for the artwork, insisted that the mansion is the right place for Mrs. Snoops' portrait.

"Mrs. Snoops' portrait belongs in the Governor's Mansion as a tribute to her overseeing of the restoration of the mansion over the past seven years," Mr. Robinson said.

"It's appropriate that she be recognized for what she did, not as first lady, not as first friend, but for what she contributed," he said.

The governor, in an interview as he left the State House last night, professed ignorance of how the money for the portraits was raised, saying the project was Mrs. Snoops' brainchild.

"Hilda Mae did it," he said. "I don't know how in the hell she paid for it."

The portraits were painted by Baltimore artist Joseph Sheppard. His 1988 rendering of Mr. Schaefer hangs in Baltimore City Hall to commemorate his 15 years as mayor.

During Mr. Schaefer's tenure as governor, Mr. Sheppard painted a mural above the fireplace in the mansion of George Washington as he prepared to resign as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army.

Mr. Sheppard, 63, said he was paid $20,000 for each of the portraits. He said he completed them and dispatched them to Annapolis some time ago.

He said the governor and Mrs. Snoops, who resides at the mansion and serves as the state's official hostess, sat for their portraits in Annapolis. The artist said he also worked from photographs in his North Charles Street studio.

Mr. Sheppard said of the governor's portrait: "It's going to be a surprise. It's unlike all the others down there."

As for Mrs. Snoops' portrait, he said he put in a number of items associated with her, including an antique piano built in Baltimore that she added to the mansion's appointments.

In recent years, the state Board of Public Works has routinely approved funds of up to $16,000 for gubernatorial portraits as incumbent chief executives neared the end of their time in office.

But Mr. Schaefer, attorney Robinson said, wanted to spare taxpayers the expense.

"The governor is painfully conscious of the decline in state revenues, the increases in budget requirements and has opted this time to raise the funds from the private sector without tapping into taxpayer sources," said Mr. Robinson.

The governor made a similar point, giving Mrs. Snoops credit for the inspiration. "Hilda Mae saved the state $16,000," he said.

The portraits were paid for by the Governor's Mansion Foundation, established in 1987 as a private, tax-exempt organization to help pay for Mrs. Snoops' ambitious, at times controversial, renovation of the mansion.

Contributions to the foundation for the portraits were solicited by, among others, Christopher C. Hartman, a former mayoral press secretary to Mr. Schaefer, who is now associated with the well-connected Baltimore advertising firm of Richardson, Myers and Donofrio.

Mr. Hartman said he spoke with some people either in person or on the telephone about contributing toward both portraits.

In addition, he sent letters to Schaefer acquaintances soliciting funds solely for the governor's portrait last November.

"I have been asked by Governor William Donald Schaefer to raise the funding for his official portrait which has been painted by renowned artist, Joe Sheppard," said Mr. Hartman in a typical solicitation letter, dated Nov. 14.

The letter goes on to describe Mr. Schaefer as "a tireless worker and an inspirational leader" who has set a standard for excellence and devotion to duty "unequaled in my memory."

Mr. Hartman concludes, "Please join a few of his closest friends in participating in this unique honor. We hope you will consider a contribution of $1,000."

He said he probably sent 50 to 60 letters to those he described as "personal friends of the governor."

The letters were also sent to lobbyists and political acquaintances, said some of those contacted, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The letter directs donors to make checks payable to the Governor's Mansion Foundation.

The foundation has been approved by the federal Internal Revenue Service as a 501 (C) (3) organization, which means that its income is exempt from taxes and contributions made to it are tax deductible, according to Dom LaPonzina, spokesman for the Baltimore IRS office.

The 501 (C) (3) designation is reserved for organizations deemed to have a charitable, religious, educational or scientific purpose, he said.

The William Donald Schaefer Civic Fund, a small charity established more than a decade ago by Mr. Schaefer to make small grants to civic and community organizations, was also asked to help pay for the governor's portrait.

But some board members objected and the matter was dropped without coming to a vote.

None of the opponents, sources said, argued that paying for the governor's portrait was improper or illegal, simply that the civic fund was established for a different purpose.

The civic fund has limited contributions to $1,000 or less.

Contributions have gone to such groups as the Baltimore Ravens Wheelchair Basketball Club and the Montgomery County Association for the Hearing Impaired, according to documents on file with the Maryland secretary of state in Annapolis.

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