Sculpting T.R.


The President gave me sittings (or rather he stood up all the time) in the mornings, and again in the afternoon, faithfully posing for me as few people ever pose. On one occasion he came in limping and dripping with perspiration—he had been playing tennis and had turned his ankle. When I asked him to sit down, saying that I could put the portrait down lower, he would not have it. He insisted on standing, saying, “This is my punishment for losing.”

When the portrait was nearly completed he again had his Cabinet Members look at the bust. They liked it very much, which was most encouraging. I remember on this occasion that some lady from the West called to see the President. He left the East room and went out to meet the woman who was with a delegation from somewhere out West. When he came back he was quite angry; they had kept him too long. The woman had a photograph which she said she had taken of the President. He said it did look a little like him, but on the whole not much—it had short hair and a sort of potato nose. Secretary Root asked, “Mr. President, was that the only way in which it resembled you?” and the President, not quite hearing what Secretary Root said, asked, “What was that Elihu? What was that?” And Elihu said, “Oh, it was only a remark.” But the President didn’t quite like it, or at least made believe he didn’t. The Cabinet Members laughed heartily, in particular Secretary Taft. The President, I found, always listened closely to everything Elihu Root said. …

Many years later, a great Foundation wanted a portrait bust of Elihu Root. He remembered that I had done the portrait of President Roosevelt, and came to my studio and asked if I would make his portrait. When he came he said, “You know, I liked that portrait you made of President Theodore Roosevelt. It has his greatest characteristic— aggressiveness, aggressiveness, Aggressiveness! ” I was very pleased.

There was a constant stream of people coming in to see the President while the posings were taking place. … In talking to his many callers, it was evident that his knowledge of history and of the world was profound.

On one occasion he followed the ins and outs of the coast line of China, while talking with George Kennan, with the most astonishing understanding of its every contour. He was the George Kennan that was banned from entering Russia and Japan, long ago, for his political writings. After Kennan had left, he said to me, “This is the most interesting moment in the world’s history—the slowly awakening China, and the declining England … the joining of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans … and we will soon fly around the earth!” How right he was in his prediction, yet this was in 1904.

He posed one Sunday morning, and suddenly looking up said, “I suppose the people of the United States think I am in church. I wonder what they would say if they knew I was lazily posing for my portrait.”

I’d like to cite an incident as an example of Roosevelt’s moral courage which everyone realized. It was just getting dark one afternoon in the East room of the White House when a Western politician was announced. The President scowled and said, “Send him in.” The man came in and greeted the President briskly. Roosevelt was standing at one side of my stand as I worked, and did not look up at the Westerner’s greeting. The man, thinking he had not been heard, walked toward Roosevelt expectantly and asked about a letter he had addressed to the President. Roosevelt deliberately turned and walked around to the other side of the portrait, finally the man followed, only to have the President turn back to his first position. There I stood with the two men following each other round me until the caller sensed his lack of welcome and started to leave the room, saying, “Good-day Mr. President.” Before he got ten feet away the President said in a very loud voice as he leaned toward me, “That is a bad man, a very bad man.” …

The President, while talking with H— P— one day, mentioned his business.

“Mr. President,” asked H.P., “what is your business?”

The answer came with great definition and some scorn, “Young man, my business is politics !”

After H.P. had gone, an old friend of the President’s who was present asked Mr. Roosevelt who the young man was, and the President said scathingly, “Oh, he’s some kind of a reformer!” …

The President and his friends told many amusing stories. Among those that the President told were of sea-sick people. He was amused by their utter disregard of all surroundings. One was of a young lady and man lying in their deck chairs during a storm, both terribly sick, the man’s head in the lady’s lap. A solicitous person passing, asked, “Madam, can I do something for your poor husband?” The answer came, miserably, “He isn’t my husband, I don’t know who he is!” …

I was told by a gentleman who attended a party given for the President that someone chided the President because he didn’t smoke. The President, in that staccato voice, said, “Well, I like mint juleps, I like horse racing, and I go to prize fights. Won’t that do?