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Portrait of former governor Keyes being presented in Concord today

CONCORD - A portrait of former Gov. Henry Wilder Keyes will finally take its rightful place along the second floor hallway of the State House this week.

Today, the Executive Council will accept Keyes' newly-painted portrait from the Governor Henry W. Keyes Portrait Committee. The group of family and family friends of the late governor is raising money to pay for the portrait of Keyes done by award-winning artist Craig Pursely of Bath.

Keyes of North Haverhill served one term as governor from 1917 to 1919 and three terms in the U.S. Senate from 1919 to 1937.

A photograph of Keyes used on a campaign poster when he first ran for he U.S. Senate is the model for the portrait.

Former state representative Dean Dexter, whose grandmother knew Keyes' wife, is heading up the effort to raise money for the portrait, but said the committee wanted to present the portrait to the state under Gov. John Lynch's watch.

"We did not want this to drag on for a couple of years," Dexter said. "The painter did the job so quickly, we would like to get this done as soon as possible."

Last summer, Dexter first raised the issue of the authenticity of the Keyes portrait that hung in the State House.

What was thought to be the Keyes portrait was found in the Legislative Office Building in 2005 and was determined to be a portrait of Keyes by then state curator Russell Bastedo.

The portrait has hung on the second floor hallway with the portraits of other governors since that time until it was removed last summer after the Joint Legislative Historical Committee voted in August to remove it.

In September, the portrait of Keyes was determined to actually be a portrait of Jacob Hart Ela, a former state representative and congressman from Rochester.

The Senate research staff identified Ela by studying the portraits in past issues of the NH Manual of the General Court or Red Books.

When the historical committee met in August, Dexter gave lawmakers a letter from Keyes' granddaughter, Frances Parkinson Keyes Keidel, stating the man in the portrait is not her grandfather.

Keidel and another grandchild Peter Keyes worked with Dexter to have a new portrait commissioned. They will all be at the ceremony today.

The caretaker of the Keyes farm, Carl Nystrom, told Dexter he knew of a local artist who could do the portrait. Nystrom had done work on Pursely's home in return for a number of civil war portraits.

Nystrom later showed the portraits to Keidel and Dexter. Keidel visited Pursely's studio, the American Heritage Gallery of Art, and looked at his work, some of which hangs in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

"She told me I had the job and I was really happy about that," Pursely said.

Pursely had visited the State House several years before because of his interest in early American portraits and took some pictures of his favorites including one done by renowned painter Edmund Tarbell of former Gov. Rolland Spaulding, which will be next to his portrait of Keyes.

While he was struggling with the color of Keyes face, Pursley said he brought the work to the State House put it on the wall and then looked at the Spaulding portrait and another down the hall.

"I sat down on the stairs and made notes. Why was Tarbell's different than mine? . . . . I studied to see what I needed to adjust," Pursley said. "The next time (I worked on the face) it was fine."

The council meeting begins at 10 a.m. in the Executive Council Chambers in the State House.

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Garry Rayno may be reached at grayno@unionleader.com.


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