Henk Pander and Tom McCall (Part 2)

I no longer have my notes and transcribed interviews related to the McCall portrait. I must go on my memory of talking with Henk, former Secretary of State Norma Paulus, a protege of McCall’s, and Thomas Vaughn, former long-time director of the Oregon Historical Society.

Tom McCall lived in Portland after his second term ended in 1975. Some time in the early 80s he developed cancer and eventually died in January of 1983 after a prolonged and painful fight. At some point during McCall’s chemotherapy, it was either Paulus or Vaughn who arranged for Henk to paint the Governor’s official portrait. Inexplicably, an artist hadn’t already been chosen and painted it. Now McCall was going to die before sitting for the portrait so time was of the essence.

I believe Paulus and Vaughn chose Henk because they were familiar and admired his work, he was in Portland, and his aesthetic was as unconventional as McCall’s visionary governing.

Henk told me McCall was chauffeured to his studio for several sittings where Henk made sketches. McCall was so sick by then that the sessions didn’t last long. McCall seemed a bit confused by Henk’s expressionistic and distinctly modern style. He did tell him, “To make it great!”

Henk told me he and McCall carried on lively conversations during the sittings but he couldn’t remember any of their substance. He also told me he read McCall’s 1977 Autobiography Maverick and he was drawn to the dramatic scene where McCall landed on Cannon Beach and called out the motel owner who had kicked picnickers off a beach in front of his building, claiming it was private property. His outrageous act had prompted the whole Beach Bill controversy of who owns Oregon’s ocean beaches in the dry sands areas. Luckily, the socialists won this battle and I am forever in debt to those who helped orchestrate the winning.

Henk decided he wanted to use that legendary visit to Cannon Beach in the midst of a legislative session when the Beach Bill was in dire jeopardy as the backdrop/landscape/theme/? of the portrait.

No artist does that painting official portraits of august politicians. Portraits almost always stick to formula. JFK’s was really the first to deviate but it didn’t start a trend.

Henk sketched McCall in 1982 and began working on the portrait. It was going to be of a massive scale as far as Oregon’s gubernatorial portraits went.

McCall died and the portrait was almost finished (so much so that it was signed in 1982) but Henk told me he couldn’t get the face right.

So as McCall laid in state in the Capitol and Oregonians lined up for a last look, Henk lined, up too, and stashed a camera inside his jacket

And when he came to stand over McCall, Henk Pander whipped out the camera and snapped a couple photographs of a dead Tom McCall! He then touched up McCall’s face using the snapshots as reference!

The portrait was unveiled in the Capitol sometime in 1983 and there, McCall’s widow, Audrey, saw it for the first time in front of the media.

Henk heard later she hated it because McCall looked sick. Paulus and Vaughn both liked the portrait.

I think it’s the greatest painting I have ever seen in my life and I’ve been to The Louvre, The Tate, MOMA and the Prado.

One final historical correction: McCall never landed on Cannon Beach by helicopter. It was one of the most enduring myths of modern Oregon history and finally exposed by my filmmaker friend Tom Olsen in his documentary about the Beach Bill, Politics of Sand.

But the myth is enshrined forever in the portrait of the greatest governor in Oregon history. As it should be.