Arlington Heights portrait artist William Chambers recently received a priority letter from a rather surprising source: Hollywood filmmaker Steven Spielberg.
The handwritten note thanked Chambers for his recent painting of Spielberg, which was unveiled last month at a dinner in Chicago hosted by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation.
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"I can imagine I'm not an easy subject to paint," Spielberg wrote. "My wife is a painter and when she saw your work, she was very impressed, and I must admit, so was I!"
His portrait capped an impressive evening, which drew 650 guests to the Hilton Chicago for the awarding of the foundation's Lincoln Leadership Prize. News anchor Bill Kurtis emceed the dinner, while actress Sally Field, who portrayed the role of Mary Lincoln in Spielberg's film, Lincoln, presented the award.
According to foundation officials, the award honors a lifetime of service in the spirit of Abraham Lincoln.
"The prize winners stand among the world's finest examples of global leadership," says Carla Knorowski, executive director of the library and museum, "with a commitment to the defining principles of democracy and issues of social justice.
"The oil portraits of the prize recipients hang next to a portrait of Abraham Lincoln," Knorowski adds, "and capture the essence of each leader -- their humanity, compassion and commitment to a more peaceful and just world."
Each one, she points out, was painted by an American portraitist.
Spielberg is the seventh recipient, following last year's winner, former President Bill Clinton, and prior winners Sandra Day O'Connor, Desmond Tutu, James Lovell, Tim Russert and Lech Walesa.
Chambers played a role in the two latest awards, getting commissions to paint their portraits.
Spielberg's painting now hangs next to Clinton's in the Visitor's Center across the street from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, which draws more than 300,000 people annually, officials say.
It's not the first time Chambers has painted a high profile dignitary. His subjects have included former Illinois governors James R. Thompson and Jim Edgar, as well as university presidents, judges and CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.
Spielberg was his first celebrity, but in researching him, Chambers found himself impressed by more than his film credits.
"The more I learned about him, the more impressed I was by how philanthropic he was," Chambers said.
Foundation members agreed. In the program, they noted Spielberg had established the Righteous Persons Foundation to support a diverse and vibrant Jewish community in the United States, and continues to serve as chairman emeritus of the Starlight Children's Foundation.
Chambers found Spielberg's work in starting the Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive particularly moving. Spielberg started the archive to record testimonies of survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust and other genocides.
He started documenting in 1994, shortly after filming "Schindler's List," and in 2006 entered into a partnership with the University of Southern California to relocate the archive there. To date, the foundation has gathered more than 52,000 testimonies.