JFK’s Portrait: Why is he looking down?

JFK’s Portrait: Why is he looking down?

It happens every school year.  Whenever my students flip through the presidents’ portraits in the back pages of their textbooks, a question always arises: “Why is JFK looking down in his painting?”  It’s a good question.  If one looks at the presidents’ official portraits, it becomes very clear that Kennedy’s portrait is unique among the other portraits.  But, why did the artist paint Kennedy in this pose?

Over the many years of presidential portraits, it eventually became tradition to have the official presidential portrait painted after each president left office.   So, after her husband’s death, Jackie Kennedy commissioned Aaron Shikler to paint the official portrait of John F. Kennedy.  In an interview that appeared in People magazine, Shikler stated that Jackie gave him specific directions on painting her husband’s image.1  According to Shikler, Jackie said, “I don’t want him to look the way everybody else makes him look, with the bags under his eyes and that penetrating gaze.  I’m tired of that image.”

“I don’t want him to look the way everybody else makes him look…”

So, Shikler started sketching the president’s image, and he finally found inspiration from a photograph of JFK’s brother, Ted, grieving after his brother’s untimely death.  In the funeral photograph Ted Kennedy had his head bowed and his arms crossed.  Shikler got to work and presented Jackie with a sketch of JFK in a similar pose – with arms crossed and head bowed.  Jackie chose this sketch among all other sketches.

I think that Shikler’s painting tells a story.  It makes the viewer pause to think.  Speaking of the portrait, Shikler said, “All I wanted to portray was a man who looked like he could think.”

“All I wanted to portray was a man who looked like he could think.”

Does he achieve this goal?  I’m not sure.  When I look at the painting, it seems that Kennedy seems out there alone and somber.  As it hangs in the White House, Kennedy’s portrait stands out against the crowd of the more nobly-posed presidents.   In the end, I think that Shikler succeeded in painting a memorable image of the late president.

But that doesn’t mean that everyone agrees with the representation of Kennedy.  In response to his critics, Shikler said, “Mrs. Kennedy loved the idea, I loved the idea, and it certainly stands out among all those God-forsaken postage-stamp portraits hanging in the White House.”

When my students ask, “Why is JFK looking down in his painting?,” I answer my students with a question.  “Why do you think the artist would paint Kennedy in such a way?”  It’s a great discussion starter, and it dovetails perfectly with discussing the man who has become a beloved American icon after a tragic death.  Perhaps the painting references JFK’s assassination.  Maybe it references the personal struggles of Kennedy.  Ultimately, I think that it’s a painting that tells the story of an early end to a vibrant life.  And who else could choose a better image to represent the man than his wife, Jackie?

Additional note: It is worth mentioning that, among other paintings, Aaron Shikler painted a portrait of Jackie Kennedy that still hangs in the White House (see below).


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Cool Presidents

Cool Presidents

Cool Presidents

Before it gets too warm outside, let’s chill out with some of our coolest presidents.

In this infographic we explore what it means to be a cool president. Sometimes presidents were literally cold, like William Henry Harrison at his inauguration. At other times, presidents have to keep their cool, like Kennedy did during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Still some presidents just have a chilly personality (see Benjamin Harrison).


Check out our book! We the People and the President takes an infographic look at the American president and the people he serves.


© 2021 Periodic Presidents

The Periodic Table of the Constitution

The Periodic Table of the Constitution

The Constitution matters.

We the People at the Periodic Presidents would like to introduce the newest member of our full-size (24″ x 36″) poster lineup. The Periodic Table of the Constitution is a one-stop shop for all essential (and fun) info from our founding document.

The Blueprint for a Nation

Our blueprint design includes the following major pieces:

  • The Preamble
  • The 7 Articles (with key original text)
  • The 27 Amendments
  • The 7 guiding principles
  • 10 significant Supreme Court cases
  • And other fun historical info

The Story

The story of the Constitution involves more than the articles and amendments.  We’ve included historical side notes that highlight other events surrounding our Constitution, such as:

  • The Articles of Confederation
  • The Federalist Papers
  • The Virginia Plan, New Jersey Plan & Connecticut Compromise
  • The 3/5 Compromise
  • The Preamble in plain English
  • Presidential trivia

If you already have our Amendments poster, this is the perfect companion piece.  Both posters, when displayed together, tell the story of our nation’s founding document.

The PTOTC is a great reference for the classroom – for both teachers and students. You can buy our new PTOTC here

Thanks and enjoy!

-PJ & Jamie

Check out our book! We the People and the President takes an infographic look at the American president and the people he serves.

Money Presidents

Money Presidents

$100,000 bill?

Woodrow Wilson appears on the largest note ever produced by our government.  The $100,000 bill wasn’t circulated among the general public, but instead was used for transactions between Federal Reserve Banks during the Great Depression.

Money fascinates people of all ages. Its portraits, symbols, and words tell a story of our nation’s past.  For many years, Lady Liberty was the most common icon on currency. Today, it is the presidents that dominate our money.

Check out our newly-updated blog post about the presidents and our money.  The infographic and article tell a story of our country’s money – both past and present.  We’ve included interesting facts such as the cost of production, composition and lifespans of currency, as well as short bios of the men and women on our currency.

Want to share this with your students?

This infographic can be easily printed or projected.  And, here’s a lesson with questions (and answers) to give your students a more in-depth look at the history of our country’s money.

Check out our book! We the People and the President takes an infographic look at the American president and the people he serves.

© 2021 Periodic Presidents

Which presidents are related?

Which presidents are related?

 Father-Son Duos

The Adamses were the first father-son duo to be elected President. The Adams family connection to the New World goes way back.  In fact, John Adams’s great-great-grandparents were among the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth in 1620.

John and John Quincy experienced similar careers: both went to Harvard, both were lawyers, and both were elected to one presidential term.

“I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.”

~John Adams, in a letter to Abigail Adams, 1780

 

George Herbert Walker Bush and George Walker Bush were the second father-son duo to reach the White House. Incidentally, the Bush presidents share some similarities with the Adams presidents.

Both John Adams and George H. W. Bush served as vice presidents before being elected president. John Quincy and George W. both entered the White House under controversy.

John Quincy Adams defeated Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay in the election of 1824 – in what was dubbed “The Corrupt Bargain” by Jackson supporters. In 2000 George W. Bush defeated Al Gore in a presidential election that wasn’t finalized until five weeks after Election Day. Neither John Quincy Adams nor George W. Bush received the majority of the popular vote in their elections.  As a matter of fact, the elections of 1824 and 2000 were both decided by outside of the Electoral College. The House of Representatives made the final decision in 1824, and in a five to four vote, the U.S. Supreme Court ended the 2000 election with a George W. Bush victory.

“I had watched Dad climb into the biggest arena and succeed. I wanted to find out if I had what it took to join him.”

~George W. Bush, Decision Points, 2010


Grandfather & Grandson

The Harrison family name was etched in American history books when Benjamin Harrison V signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The Founding Father Harrison had a son named William Henry, who eventually became a war hero, a president (for thirty days), and the origin of a presidential legend.  William Henry’s grandson, Benjamin would also reach the White House when he was elected in 1888.

The election of 1840 was truly a national campaign with slogans, songs, and even nicknames. William Henry Harrison, or “Old Tippecanoe,” ran as an everyman candidate who was born in a log cabin.  However, Harrison’s beginnings were far from modest. The Harrison family had been a wealthy Virginia family from the beginning of the nation.

As the grandson of a president and the great-grandson of a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Harrison brought a distinguished name into the White House. However, most historians agree that his one term as president didn’t shine nearly as brightly as his family name.


Cousins

James Madison and Zachary Taylor were second cousins. James Madison was a devoted student of history, law, and politics. As a an influential Founder, he played a leading role in framing the Constitution and introducing the Bill of Rights.

Zachary Taylor, on the other hand, was a military hero who arguably knew little about government, law, or politics when he was elected. How about that?  The Father of the Constitution and the president who was a first-time voter at his own election are related.


The Roosevelts were fifth cousins. Teddy was the uncle of Eleanor. In fact, when Franklin and Eleanor married, Teddy gave the bride away. Teddy’s signature can be seen on Franklin and Eleanor’s marriage certificate below.

Genealogists have determined that FDR is related – by blood or marriage – to a total of eleven presidents: George Washington, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, James Madison, Zachary Taylor, William Henry Harrison, Benjamin Harrison, Martin Van Buren, Ulysses S. Grant, and William Howard Taft.

 “It is a good thing to keep the name in the family.”

~Teddy Roosevelt to a reporter at the Franklin Roosevelt-Eleanor Roosevelt wedding, 1905



Sources

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Where is FDR’s original memorial?

Where is FDR’s original memorial?

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the only president elected four times (1932, 1936, 1940, and 1944). Sadly, he passed away from a cerebral hemorrhage shortly after being elected to his fourth term. Leading the country through an economic crisis and a world war usually puts Franklin Roosevelt near the top of most greatest presidents lists. No matter how one views Franklin Roosevelt’s time in the White House, his legacy has a permanent place in our nation’s capital in the form of a memorial.


The FDR Memorial (1997)

Dedicated in 1997, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C. is far from a modest remembrance of an oft-admired president. At seven and a half acres, it is the largest presidential memorial on the National Mall. In many ways, the FDR Memorial is one of the most powerful and captivating memorials on the Mall. Its power lies in its grandeur.

Upon arrival to the FDR Memorial, the visitor is greeted by a solitary bronze statue of Roosevelt seated in his wheelchair, a stark reminder of the president’s personal struggle with polio. Then, the visitor travels through four main sections, each representing one of FDR’s four terms. The memorial’s pink granite, cascading waterfalls, bronze statues, and inspirational quotes tell the story not only of a president, but also of a nation.

But, technically-speaking, this is not the  first memorial in our nation’s capital to honor FDR. Even more, the FDR Memorial might go against the wishes of Roosevelt himself. Despite the beauty and magnitude of the FDR Memorial, Roosevelt spoke of a much more modest memorial.


Photographs by PJ Creek


“…plain without any ornamentation”

The original memorial to FDR is located near the National Archives, the home of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. A rectangular piece of gray stone, the memorial is roughly the size of FDR’s desk. This simple memorial seems a fitting remembrance of the man who led our nation through the Great Depression. The following text appears on the memorial’s informational plaque:

“IN SEPTEMBER 1941 PRESIDENT FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT CALLED HIS FRIEND, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE FRANKFURTER, TO THE WHITE HOUSE AND ASKED THE JUSTICE TO REMEMBER THE WISH HE THEN EXPRESSED:

‘IF ANY MEMORIAL IS ERECTED TO ME, I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT I SHOULD LIKE IT TO BE. I SHOULD LIKE IT TO CONSIST OF A BLOCK ABOUT THE SIZE OF THIS (PUTTING HIS HAND ON HIS DESK) AND PLACED IN THE CENTER OF THAT GREEN PLOT IN FRONT OF THE ARCHIVES BUILDING. I DON’T CARE WHAT IT IS MADE OF, WHETHER LIMESTONE OR GRANITE OR WHATNOT, BUT I WANT IT PLAIN WITHOUT ANY ORNAMENTATION, WITH THE SIMPLE CARVING, ‘IN MEMORY OF _____________’.’

A SMALL GROUP OF LIVING ASSOCIATES OF THE PRESIDENT, ON APRIL 12, 1965, THE TWENTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF HIS DEATH, FULFILLED HIS WISH BY PROVIDING AND DEDICATING THIS MODEST MEMORIAL.”


Photographs by PJ Creek


How should FDR be remembered?

It’s interesting to consider how we remember our presidents. Massive memorials are constructed to honor the memory of admired presidents: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln. These architectural accomplishments craft a narrative of a president’s legacy. The FDR Memorial is an expansive tribute to a significant president.

Nevertheless, the question remains: How should FDR be remembered? If one takes FDR at his own words, the President wanted a small, modest memorial. Perhaps the fact that FDR thought of the construction of his own memorial points to another interesting question: Can a president accurately envision his own memorial?  In any case, the original, desk-sized memorial located by the National Archives is a fascinating contrast to the seven football fields of granite that sprawl along the Tidal Basin.


Go to the original FDR memorial


Sources

White House Biography

http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/franklindroosevelt

National Park Service: FDR Memorial

http://www.nps.gov/frde/index.htm


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© 2021 Periodic Presidents