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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker gets heat for removing painting of children

June 8, 2011 |  1:01 pm

Wishes

Scott Walker, the Republican governor of Wisconsin, assumed office in January and has quickly become a controversial figure for his policies on unions and education. In his short time in office, he has pushed through deep cuts to public schools and stricter collective bargaining rules, arguing they are necessary to close a serious budget gap.

In so doing, he has earned the praise of conservatives around the country, including Sarah Palin, who has rallied in support of the governor. Walker's detractors have launched a recall initiative and set up a pseudo-shantytown in the capital of Madison to protest his policies.

This week, Walker has found himself in the spotlight for a different matter: the decision to remove a painting from his official residence. The painting, by artist David Lenz, depicts three children of different races at play on a snowy sidewalk and was installed in November, before Walker took office.

The painting's removal was reported recently in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. The oil painting, which stands 40 inches by 50 inches, hung above the fireplace mantel in the governor's mansion. It has been replaced by a painting of the bald eagle named Old Abe, a Wisconsin military mascot during the Civil War.

Lenz said his painting, titled "Wishes in the Wind," was not meant to be controversial. "I tried to walk a tightrope politically," the artist said in a phone interview from Shorewood, Wis. "I didn't want it to be political. I wanted it to be about children and issues."

Lenz said that he thought carefully about which children to include in the painting. For instance, the girl on the far right spent a few months at a rescue mission for the homeless, while the boy in the center lost a relative to a drunk driver. (The artist said he too had lost a loved one in a drunk driving accident.)

The children in the painting are, from left to right: DeAngel Beckworth, 7; Brogan Calvillo, 5; and Dimitria Campbell, who was 3 when the painting was made.

"It's about smiling children. It's really hard to argue with it," said Lenz, whose paintings can be found in museums around the country. His portrait of the late Eunice Kennedy Shriver, commemorating her work with the Special Olympics, hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.

The artist added that he hopes Walker would "contemplate how his policies will affect children living in Wisconsin's large cities, especially the homeless and low income families, and what policies might help prevent the tragedy of drunk driving."

Walker's office issued a release saying the change was made because the executive residence has inaugurated a new theme of Civil War-related artwork and artifacts, in recognition of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

The release also stated that "Wishes in the Wind" is on loan to the Central Library in Milwaukee.

-- David Ng

Photo (top): "Wishes in the Wind." Credit: David Lenz

Photo (bottom): Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Credit: Astrid Riecken / MCT

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