• 73°

Artist marks Obama journey from candidate to president

To most of America, President Barack Obama is the same man whobegan making history more than one year ago as an upstartpresidential challenger. But to the trained eyes of an artist, atransformation has taken place.

“It’s in his eyes,” said Wesson’s Norma Jeanne Garrette, ateacher at Crystal Springs Middle School and long-time artist.”He’s getting the eye of the tiger.”

Garrette said she became inspired by Obama when his candidacyfirst began, long before his epic nomination showdown with HillaryClinton.

Then, Garrette said, his face was that of a young man full ofambition. Now, more than one year afterward, his eyes have lostsome of the daring and grown wise, she said.

“At the beginning there was hope, and he was maybe a littlewistful,” Garrette said. “Now, you can see the responsibilitysetting in.”

While many Americans would have to watch countless videos tovalidate Garrette’s claims about the 44th president’s eyes, all shehas to do is open a notebook. She has created and kept eightstencils of Obama over the last year – from his candidacy’s infantstage until a few weeks ago, after he began making preparations toassume control of the White House.

From the looks of the drawings, she’s right.

Garrette’s early sketches show a man still young, sporting anever-present grin and slender eyes that go with cheeks weary fromsmiling. Her later pictures show an Obama deep in thought, his eyessagging slightly from a year’s worth of hard campaigning and atight race to the nomination.

“After the primaries, he got serious,” Garrette said. “I feltlike he had changed. He was bright-eyed, with a gleam of hope. Thenhe buckled down and got serious. Now, he’s becoming presidential.He’s more pensive. He’s got gray hair.”

It’s well known that leading the United States from the OvalOffice causes a president to age before his nation’s very eyes.Some aging experts have said the president ages twice as fast whileoccupying his post.

Garrette’s sketched should tell the tale, as she plans to keepmaking stencils of Obama throughout his presidency. The first signsshould appear next year.

“I think at first, he’s going to be pensive, trying to figureout how to bring us out,” Garrette said. “By December, I thinkwe’ll see a lot of confidence and pride in his eyes.”

Garrette said she chose Obama as a subject because of hisaudacity, but she didn’t choose being a stenciler at all.

She made her first stencil drawing when she was 3 years old, shesaid, and hasn’t stopped since. It’s a habit she can’t ignore -even while teaching language arts to her fifth-, sixth- andseventh-graders at CSES, she stencils the students’ faces whilethey work in class.

“It’s not something I do, it’s something I can’t not do,”Garrette said. “It’s a God-given gift, and it’s constant. I thinkyou can nurture it, but you can’t teach it.”

Though Garrette can’t teach her artistry, she can use it toteach. She said she often creates a quick drawing in class toillustrate a point – a picture of children running to illustrate averb or a picture of half of an object to demonstrate fractions inmathematics.

She hopes her Obama stencils demonstrate the unity she hopesObama will bring about during his presidency. After he won theelection in November, Garrette stepped up her stencil production inpreparation for Tuesday’s inauguration, which she said would be thebiggest event of the decade – like a Pentecost – and usher in aredefinition of American society..

“It challenges all creeds, sexes and ages to cooperate,” shesaid. “In order to obtain mutual benefits, we’re going to have toturn to one another, not on one another. We’re going to have totalk to one another, not about one another. I would say I believeit, but when you start a statement like that, it implies it couldnot be true. I know it.”

To capture in lead and paper the change Obama has promised andGarrette knows will come, there are certain images of Obama she isavoiding in her new stencils. All of her recent works show the”thinking” Obama, not the “smiling” Obama.

“I want to catch him when he is serious,” she said. “They weresaying the media was being too nice to him, and every time you sawhim he was smiling. I don’t want to draw him smiling – I want todraw him serious.”

Garrette, who makes copies of all her works, said she would keepsome of her Obama stencils and present the others as gifts. Shesaid she might even attempt to sell some of the drawings, callingthat possibility her “maiden flight” into professionalartistry.

Mainly, though, Garrette will hold onto the stencils askeepsakes that remind of her of the most exciting political time inher voting life.

“Maybe, when I’m gone, they’ll dig around in my possessions andfind them,” she said.