Local artist’s work lands in President Bush’s private collection
By Whitney Skeeters
Local artist Joanie Bruce knows who to thank for her now-thriving creative career.
After former president George W. Bush replied to a letter Bruce sent him five years ago, she decided to sketch the picture he sent with it. Her kids told her the first drawing looked like a monkey, but Bruce decided to stick with it, invest in the proper tools and try again. Bruce’s painting now hangs in the 43rd president’s private gallery.
A former school-teacher, Bruce spent hours drawing bulletin boards based on greeting cards she liked.
“I always knew I could draw, but I never knew I could do portraits,” Bruce said.
The Bush portrait, an oil painting of him wearing a cowboy hat, was a jumping-off point for Bruce’s decorated artistic pursuit. Penny Faye, a friend of Bruce’s, saw the painting and asked Bruce to draw portraits of her sons. When Bruce finished, she brought the art to Faye’s beauty salon for her approval. By a twist of fate, a professional artist was there waiting on his wife and he urged Bruce to take her work to a gallery to see if she could get commissioned. For the past five years, Bruce has been creating art for clients all over the country.
Before finding its final home in the Bush collection, Bruce’s painting hung in the Magnolia Art Gallery as a demonstration piece to promote her business. Lynn Blair, the owner of the gallery, sent a picture of the oil painting to Laura Bush. A short time later, the Bushes’ secretary called Blair and inquired about buying the painting.
“I wouldn’t charge them anything,” Bruce said. “I wanted to eventually give it to him because he is the one that helped get my career started in art. I gave it in appreciation for how he got me started.”
Bruce had the portrait shipped to the gallery and received a thank-you letter from the family.
Bruce’s art can be found in the Governor’s office, galleries all over Atlanta and the homes of many Morgan County citizens. One piece, which is now in the Heritage Hall, hung in Charlie Norwood’s office while he was alive. She also painted a mural for the Morgan County Elementary School’s library.
Bruce has earned juried member status in the Portrait Society in Atlanta, a coveted title and huge achievement for a new artist with no formal training. To do so, you must work at least two years, have at least three pieces chosen for a show, and must be a member of the society. The first three Bruce submitted were chosen for exhibition by a well-known artist.
Bruce has experimented with pencil portraits, oil paintings, pastels, landscapes, and other ways of expressing herself artistically. She usually requires at least a month to finish a given project.
“God has really blessed me; it’s like everything fell into my lap,” Bruce said. “I feel very blessed to use my artwork to make other people happy.”
PRESIDENTIAL ART Local artist Joanie Bruce is pictured here with her portrait of former president George W. Bush. The portrait now resides in the Bush family’s private collection.
Printed in the January 26, 2009 edition.