History in his portrait

Ceremony: A painting of Kurt L. Schmoke takes its place in City Hall, joining those of more than 20 other mayors of Baltimore.

January 24, 2002|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

Former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke returned to City Hall yesterday to take his place in history with the unveiling of his official portrait.

With about 200 friends, family members and current and former city officials on hand, the 46th mayor of Baltimore claimed a permanent corner spot on the west wall of the second-floor Board of Estimates meeting room.

"There are a number of people in the city who wanted to hang me, and now they get their chance," Schmoke said to laughter. "I was just extremely honored to serve as the mayor for 12 years."

The 20-minute ceremony made for a good excuse to hold a reunion, as the overflow crowd was filled with old colleagues. His political guru, Larry S. Gibson, was there, as were his public works director, George G. Balog, his lobbyist, Kevin O'Keefe, and his spokesman, Clinton R. Coleman. Former Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III wasn't there, but his children came in his stead.

Many more who still work for the city were present, as were his successor, Mayor Martin O'Malley, City Council President Sheila Dixon, Comptroller Joan M. Pratt and a majority of the City Council.

"It's an odd kind of event, because this is a highly political environment, and yet this is a historical event, so it kind of transcends that, all of the petty little political-type stuff," said Jeanne March Davis, curator of City Hall. "This is history now. To me, Mayor Schmoke is formally taking his place in Baltimore history."

The oil painting by George B. Barrick shows Schmoke standing in a relaxed pose, one hand resting on top of a red chair. Behind him are shelves of books to reflect his emphasis on the importance of reading, and on the desk in front of him is a tassled bookmark inscribed with his Baltimore slogan: "The City That Reads." The city paid $15,000 for the portrait.

Barrick, 75, a Pennsylvania native, came to Baltimore in 1953 to teach art in the public schools. Nathaniel Gibbs, one of his junior high school students, painted former Mayor Clarence H. Du Burns' official portrait. Barrick had painted more than 50 portraits, including that of the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, which hangs in the University of Maryland Law Library named for him, but he said the painting of the 52-year-old Schmoke was his "crowning" achievement.

"It's just overwhelming to think that I'm there with the other artists who have painted mayors," said Barrick, who lives in Columbia.

The Board of Estimates room depicts more than 20 of Baltimore's mayors, dating to the second mayor, Thorowgood Smith, who served from 1804 to 1808. The 12 men who served as mayor from Schmoke back to J. Barry Mahool, who took office in 1907, are represented at City Hall.

Schmoke's portrait hangs next to that of Theodore R. McKeldin, whom Schmoke met as a child. It was after that chance meeting on Light Street more than 40 years ago, Schmoke said, that his mother remembers him saying that he wanted to be mayor one day. Schmoke's portrait hangs directly across the long room from his immediate predecessors, Burns and William Donald Schaefer.

Yesterday's occasion was imbued with a symbolic sense of continuity, in part, as Davis noted, because the portraits are traditionally commissioned after a mayor leaves office - by the successor's administration.

"It forces a kind of a bridge between the two administrations," Davis said, then quickly throwing in a politic addendum: "Not that it necessarily needs to be forced."

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