Local artist basks in the presence of Presidents
When Auburn artist Frank Ordaz sent a children’s book he had illustrated to First Lady Laura Bush eight years ago, he had no idea it would lead to two seats for the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum. But that’s where Ordaz found himself last Thursday, among the 10,000 gathered to celebrate the newest addition to the Southern Methodist University campus. Of course, in between, there was a certain poster he designed for the annual White House Easter Egg Roll, not to mention a trip to Washington D.C., a private tour of the White House and a meeting with the First Family. But we’ll let Frank tell us all about that.
How did you get the commission for the 2006 Easter Egg Roll poster?
“My wife saw a special on Laura Bush, how she was a schoolteacher and still reads to children. I had just finished illustrating a children’s book and she said ‘Let’s send the book to Laura Bush.’ We got a nice letter back saying congratulations on the book and that was that. Well about three months later I got a call from the White House. They wanted me to be the official artist for that year’s Easter Egg Roll. I would design the egg, the poster, program, invitations, hats and apron and all that.
I asked ‘How much do you pay me?’ and they said ‘Oh no, it’s all volunteer.’ So I said ‘That’s a lot of work, do I get anything?’ and they said ‘Well you get to come and visit the president and the White House.’ So I said OK and put 200 percent into it.”
That must have been quite an experience for your whole family. How old were your boys at the time?
“Isaac was 13 and David was 11. They had a blast. When they met the president, he gave my son a shoulder massage. We had our official photo taken with Laura Bush underneath Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of George Washington.”
Did you have to research what an egg roll was?
“I had no idea what it was. I had to look it up and find out about the history and why it’s so important. It’s a big deal when you go there. There were a ton of kids. All the big CEOs from DuPont and General Motors come with their grandchildren; all the big donors are there. Then the general public gets to play on the lawn. We had breakfast at the White House, had a private tour. I felt like I was king for a weekend.”
Were you surprised to receive an invite to attend the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum dedication on Thursday, April 25 at Southern Methodist University?
“I was really surprised. It was nice to get invited by Laura. I had primo seats for the event. Gold seats were for Heads of State, like Tony Blair. Silver section was for senators and big time donors. On either side was white and red section, that’s where I sat. Blue section watched on the Jumbotron.
I sat next to George’s flight instructor, talked to him for awhile. He says they still keep in touch. I hung out with a couple of the White House pastry chefs. People would ask one another ‘OK, why are you here?’ One lady said ‘Well I mountain bike with George every week.’ I would have talked to more people but I was busy taking photographs.
What do you remember most about the ceremony?
“When his dad (George H. W. Bush) got up it was a very moving experience. You can’t see that on TV, you had to be there. Everybody rose to their feet; it was probably the most powerful moment of the afternoon.
There definitely was security but it didn’t seem as tight as I thought it would be. Then I talked to someone from SMU who said the Secret Service was all over the place for two weeks prior, scouring the campus and making sure it was secure. But you never felt their presence.
The big star was Dikembe Mutombo. I’ve never seen a taller human being. Everybody wanted a photo with Mutombo. He does a lot of humanitarian aid for his native country.”
It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to hear five Presidents speak. Who was the best speaker?
“I’m not really a Clinton fan but man that guy can give a speech. His was the best; he captured the crowd with little anecdotes. He’s very personable. Then Obama came on and it’s hard to follow Clinton. His delivery was very mechanical and robotic; a very noticeable cadence to his speech.
I thought he would be more engaging, but his was more of a political speech, talking about how Bush started the idea of immigration reform. Carter was very straightforward and measured in his delivery. George H.W. essentially just said thank you for coming and honoring my son, that’s about all he said. Then George W. Bush, the way he talks is more homespun. You wait for his ‘strategery’ to butcher the language, but he spoke very emotionally, and it really affected everyone when he got choked up at the end. It was interesting to see how different each personality was.”
Any other memorable experiences?
Well, you always have to have protesters. After the event, my guest, Don Rowlett (founder of Ross Dress for Less) and I were trying to find the metro and two ladies got in our face screaming ‘Bush lied, people died … Bush is a murderer … he should be tried for war crimes … don’t you have anything to say?’ I said, ‘Yes, do you know the way to the train?’ Then all of a sudden she changed and was really nice to us and apologized for not knowing where it was and being able to help us. Then, just as quickly, she went back to being a protester. You had to have been there.
One of the most jarring things was to see how patriotic people in the community were. To hear students sing patriotic songs, that’s part of the south. It was one giant block party on the SMU campus that night. There was a military choral group singing, and when they sang ‘Proud to be an American’ the college kids started singing, pumping their fists in the air. I thought ‘This is so Texas.’”
How did it feel when you saw your painting hanging in the library?
“There were thousands of people there and I am very claustrophobic so I didn’t go in. I will probably go back again and I’ll see it then. My sense is it will be a part of the rotating displays, probably come out during Easter time. But it’s now part of the permanent document archive. Either way it’s an honor. They featured my artwork last month on their website in a preview for the library opening. That was pretty neat since you figure there were eight artists that did posters for the event.”
What was the high point of the trip?
“Just being blessed to be a part of something significant in the history of our country. There were five Presidents there! The morning was so electric you could cut it with a knife. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”
View Frank's artwork at www.georgewbushlibrary.smu.edu/en/Research/Textual-Materials/Featured%20Document.aspx