Former executive councilor Dudley Dudley’s portrait to hang in State House

  • Noted political activist, former state representative and the first female executive councilor Dudley Dudley attended her portrait unveiling event in the Executive Council chamber at the State House in Concord on Monday, Dec. 20, 2016. The painting, by artist Alastair Dacey, will be the ninth portrait of a woman to hang in the State House. A painting (center) of her colonial ancestor for whom she was named, Gov. Joseph Dudley, hangs on the wall behind her. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor file

  • The Executive Council voted unanimously Wednesday to allow the portrait of Dudley Dudley to hang in the State House. Paul Steinhauser / For the Monitor

For the Monitor
Wednesday, March 07, 2018

The long and strange journey of the portrait of the first woman ever to serve on New Hampshire’s Executive Council is nearing an end.

In a unanimous 5-0 vote Wednesday, the council approved hanging Dudley Dudley’s portrait in the State House, making it the ninth painting of a woman in its halls.

“I’m so happy that the portrait has been approved and we consented to its hanging,” Democratic Councilor Andru Volinsky of Concord told the Monitor following the vote.

He wasn’t the only one who felt relief.

“I’m really very pleased, and a lot of people contributed very generously to have the portrait painted,” Dudley said by phone, minutes after the vote. “And so it’s nice to see that it’s going to be hung.”

Dudley, now 81, was a liberal activist icon who served four years as a state representative from Durham during the 1970s. She was one of the leaders in the successful fight to prevent Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, who was married to former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, from building a large oil refinery along the shores of Great Bay in Durham.

She later served four two-year terms on the Executive Council starting in 1977.

The idea for a portrait was first suggested by state Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley and state Rep. Renny Cushing of Hampton, a leader in the progressive moment.

Then-Gov. Maggie Hassan approved the portrait, which was painted by Portsmouth artist Alastair Dacey, and it was unveiled at a ceremony in the council chambers in December 2016.

While that seemed liked the logical end to the saga, it wasn’t.

The portrait was never hung in the State House. In fact, it wasn’t even in the possession of the state government. It was back in the hands of the artist.

“I asked the artist for some adjustments, which he made,” Dudley explained.

After some significant alterations, the painting was finally finished, but no closer to going on display at the State House.

Then, Volinsky got involved. After facing what he characterized as a bit of “a wild goose chase” from Republican Gov. Chris Sununu and his administration, he asked for clarification from state Attorney General Gordon MacDonald, who detailed the steps that needed to be taken.

Step One – the governor’s approval, in this case Hassan’s – had occurred back in 2016.

Step Two was the council’s approval, which is now in the books.

There was no debate by the councilors other than Joe Kenney, who said, “I’m 100 percent in support of Executive Councilor Dudley Dudley having a portrait received by the state and placed in the State House ... I have no qualms about that.”

But the Republican from the North Country said he took issue with the painting itself.

“The artwork, I’m a little bit critical. I think we could have done better,” Kenney said.

As for the portrait – it was returned to state officials last week after the Department of Administrative Services reached out to the artist.

Following the council vote, the state Democratic Party criticized the governor for “more than a year of delays and ignored requests” regarding Dudley’s portrait.

Volinsky was more diplomatic.

“It took a long time to get to this 5-0 vote. So there was a lot work that went into convincing my colleagues what the route was to get the portrait here,” Volinsky said.

Still, he hinted at frustration over the drawn-out process that led to the vote.

“We could have done this a lot more easily and without any controversy. I’m glad it’s done. I appreciate the votes of my colleagues, and we’ll move forward,” he said.

The corner office disputed Democratic claims that Sununu was trying to drag his feet on the hanging of the portrait.

“On the same day the portrait was returned to the state, Governor Sununu placed it as a late item on the (council’s) agenda,” Sununu spokesman Ben Vihstadt said. “Any assertion otherwise is baseless and without merit. It is unfortunate that the Democratic Party would try to inject politics into such a historic day.”

Dudley didn’t seem fazed by the brouhaha. Asked about the delay in the hanging of her portrait, Dudley said “it isn’t a big deal.”

The big question now – where will the portrait hang in the State House?

Dudley said she’d like to see it in the council chambers.

“I would like that very much. Particularly since there’s a portrait of my ancestor hanging in the council chambers. It would be kind of fun,” she told the Monitor.

That ancestor is Joseph Dudley, who was governor of the New Hampshire and Massachusetts Bay colonies in the early 1700s.

Volinsky said he would also like to see it placed on an empty wall in the council chambers.

That decision will be made by the New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources.

The division’s director, Elizabeth Muzzey, could not be reached for comment.