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updated: 5/4/2013 9:25 AM

Arlington Hts. portrait artist's latest commission: Bill Clinton

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  • Arlington Heights artist Bill Chambers has completed a portrait of Bill Clinton that will hang in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield. The unveiling is today.

      Arlington Heights artist Bill Chambers has completed a portrait of Bill Clinton that will hang in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield. The unveiling is today.
    Courtesy of Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library F

  • The official portrait of former Gov. Jim Edgar, painted by Bill Chambers.

      The official portrait of former Gov. Jim Edgar, painted by Bill Chambers.
    Courtesy of Bill Chambers

  • Chambers also did former Gov. Jim Thompson's portrait.

      Chambers also did former Gov. Jim Thompson's portrait.
    Courtesy of Bill Chambers

 
 

Former President Bill Clinton and his life's work will be honored in Chicago on Saturday, but the work of an Arlington Heights portrait artist also will be showcased.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation commissioned Bill Chambers to paint the portrait of Clinton that will hang in the library in Springfield, among the other annual winners of the Lincoln Leadership Prize.

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The portrait will be unveiled and presented to Clinton during the award gala at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Hilton Chicago on Michigan Avenue.

Chambers, whose portraits of leaders include former Illinois governors Jim Thompson and Jim Edgar, was selected from a national search, foundation CEO Carla Knorowski said.

"He's magnificent. His work is magnificent!" Knorowski said Friday. "And we were so happy he was local. We knew he would do a phenomenal job."

Chambers, who described the world of professional portrait artists as "very competitive," said getting a commission like this is prestigious on many levels.

"Obviously, it's an honor to do," he said. "You're honored to be chosen, then comes the responsibility of pulling it off."

Chambers said he was given a relatively tight time frame for the assignment.

Clinton himself was unavailable to sit for Chambers during his research period, due to health problems Hillary Clinton was having after she hit her head in December.

Two official portraits of Clinton have already been done, both depicting him during his presidency with the Oval Office as the background.

The Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation wanted a portrait that depicted the Bill Clinton of today.

"I researched everything I could find on him," Chambers said.

This not only helped the artist capture Clinton's current physical appearance, but it helped Chambers decide on a pose and other elements that depict the 42nd president's personality, character and achievements.

The making of art is a largely solitary endeavor, so maybe it's not surprising that Chambers' least favorite part of the process is the inevitable public unveiling.

"That's the most uncomfortable part. I'd almost rather send a surrogate," Chambers laughed.

"Some artists I know love being on stage."

The Clinton portrait will hang alongside those of past and future winners of the Lincoln Leadership Prize, flanking an equally sized portrait of Lincoln himself in the main hallway of the 16th president's library.

Prior winners of the prize include former Polish President Lech Walesa, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, astronaut James A. Lovell Jr. and the late television journalist Tim Russert.

The prize honors individuals from all backgrounds, professions and even nations for a lifetime of service that exemplifies the spirit of Lincoln.

These individuals have demonstrated a strong commitment to public service, the greater good and the principles of democracy upon which our nation was founded, Knorowski said.

Though Russert received the award posthumously, he was already under consideration at the time of his death, Knorowski said.

For the most part, the award has aimed to show the spirit of Lincoln still at work in the world today.

"We want people to hear from these leaders," she said. "It's always more desirable when you're hearing from the leaders themselves."

And that's why the spirit of Lincoln has been recognized even in non-Americans like Walesa and Tutu.

"Lincoln is our greatest export," Knorowski said. "Lincoln is universal."

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