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Former N.H. governor Craig Benson gets official portrait in State House

  • FROM LEFT: Former governor Craig Benson; his wife, Denise; and artist Richard Whitney unveil the official portrait of Benson at the State House in Concord on Thursday, April 27, 2017. Benson, a Republican, served one term as governor from 2003 to 2005. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Former governor Craig Benson attends the unveiling of his official portrait at the State House in Concord on Thursday, April 27, 2017. Benson, a Republican, served one term as governor from 2003 to 2005. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Former governor Craig Benson and his wife, Denise, hug after the official portrait of Benson was unveiled at the State House in Concord on Thursday, April 27, 2017. Benson, a Republican, served one term as governor from 2003 to 2005. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Former governor Craig Benson speaks at the unveiling of his official portrait at the State House in Concord on Thursday, April 27, 2017. Benson, a Republican, served one term as governor from 2003 to 2005. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Former governor Craig Benson speaks at the unveiling of his official portrait at the State House in Concord on Thursday, April 27, 2017. Benson, a Republican, served one term as governor from 2003 to 2005. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Former governor Craig Benson (left) shakes hands with Gov. Chris Sununu before the unveiling of Benson’s official portrait at the State House in Concord on Thursday, April 27, 2017. Benson, a Republican, served one term as governor from 2003 to 2005. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Former governor Steve Merrill speaks during the unveiling of former Gov. Craig Benson’s official portrait at the State House in Concord on Thursday, April 27, 2017. Benson, a Republican, served one term as governor from 2003 to 2005. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • The official portrait of former governor Craig Benson was unveiled at the State House in Concord on Thursday, April 27, 2017. Benson, a Republican, served one term as governor from 2003 to 2005. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Former governor Steve Merrill speaks during the unveiling of former Gov. Craig Benson’s official portrait at the State House in Concord on Thursday, April 27, 2017. Benson, a Republican, served one term as governor from 2003 to 2005. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Former senator Kelly Ayotte attends the unveiling of former governor Craig Benson’s official portrait at the State House in Concord on Thursday, April 27, 2017. Benson, a Republican, served one term as governor from 2003 to 2005. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Former governor John H. Sununu attends the unveiling of former governor Craig Benson’s official portrait at the State House in Concord on Thursday, April 27, 2017. Benson, a Republican, served one term as governor from 2003 to 2005. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)



Associated Press
Thursday, April 27, 2017

Nearly 14 years after New Hampshire’s famed “Old Man of the Mountain” rock formation crumbled, its image endures on license plates, road signs and more. So, too, will the image of the man who led the state at the time, after the unveiling Thursday of former governor Craig Benson’s official portrait.

Benson, a Republican, served one term as governor from 2003-05. A millionaire who built Cabletron Systems into the state’s largest employer, he promised to run the state like a business, but he ended up being the first governor in 78 years to be denied a second term.

On Thursday, former Republican governor Steve Merrill described Benson as an entrepreneur who championed innovation like no other governor, but who was humble enough to stand in Merrill’s kitchen soaked from rain and ask for his support.

“I said to my wife ... Someone who would do that, someone of such stature who would come to our kitchen just to talk is going to win, and he’s going to change New Hampshire,” Merrill said. “Craig, you did both. Congratulations.”

The portrait depicts Benson in Representatives Hall at the State House with an American flag as a backdrop.

“This country’s great for two reasons, and both of them are in that portrait,” Benson said. “One, we love this country. And two, we have people who are willing to come to this very chamber, 400 of them, for no pay, and work to make this place a better place.”

The artist was Richard Whitney, who has painted seven other New Hampshire governors. He joked that Benson was so handsome, he couldn’t go wrong, but in an interview before the ceremony, said there were some challenges.

“Painting the flag so it was a secondary object that didn’t overwhelm the governor was a very difficult challenge,” he said. “I spent as much time on the flag as I did on the portrait.”

The portrait isn’t the first for Benson, however, and Whitney isn’t the first artist to paint him.

Keene artist Romas Brandt claimed in 2006 that Benson never paid for a $12,500 portrait he commissioned while in the corner office, according to previous Monitor reports. In the 4-foot portrait, Benson stands in front of a simple wood panel background and wraps his arms around the back of a brown leather chair. An American flag hangs from a pole behind his right shoulder, the only other object in the painting.

Benson never picked up the work and refused to pay for the portrait, Brandt told the Monitor in 2006. But it didn’t go to waste, he said, as Brandt displayed his work in several shows.

Whitney, however, is used to the challenges of governor portraiture.

He accompanied former governor Judd Gregg to the summits of Mount Washington and Wildcat Mountain for his portrait. Former governor John H. Sununu gave him three pages of instructions about his portrait, including that it show a computer screen displaying details of the state budget. That portrait also includes depictions of family photos of his eight children.

“I had to make an exact likeness of each one, so I spent more time on the painting of the photo behind him than on the rest of the portrait,” Whitney said.

Whitney could end up painting one of those children again – current governor Chris Sununu, who took office in January and was the first Republican elected to the office since Benson.

(Monitor staff writer Allie Morris contributed to this report.)