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Decking the halls of the White House

Laura Bush reached out to a Downingtown artist for two 12-foot murals.

Adrian Martinez next to his work at the Chester County Art Association. Martinez designedthe 2001 White House Christmas card.
Adrian Martinez next to his work at the Chester County Art Association. Martinez designedthe 2001 White House Christmas card.Read moreMICHAEL PEREZ / Inquirer Staff Photographer

On a day in mid-May, Downingtown artist Adrian Martinez got a call from the interior designer for the White House. Laura Bush wanted to commission him to paint two large murals in the White House for this Christmas season.

"I felt very honored," said Martinez, 58, who has lived in Downingtown with his wife, Leah, and son, Sebastian, for the last 12 years.

This holiday season, visitors to the White House will be able to view Martinez's 12-foot-high murals of the Grand Canyon in Arizona and Zion National Park in Utah in the alcoves of the first floor's main hallway. About 60,000 people normally visit the White House during this period. The paintings were unveiled Nov. 29 by Laura Bush, with Martinez at her side.

Painted on canvas stretched out on steel frames, the artworks were painted in an outside government facility in late July. When the paintings were ready to go into place, they were slid into the marble alcoves, making it appear as if they were actually painted onto the curved walls.

It took just 10 days for Martinez to complete the two murals, but he had spent months preparing ahead of time. He did watercolors, sketches and oil paintings of the scenes he was planning on painting. He explained: "There was no time to thrash around. By the time I left Pennsylvania, the painting was in my spinal column."

He never actually went to the Grand Canyon or Zion National Park. He researched with books and photographs. Martinez explained that he was afraid that if he went, there would be "too much information." So instead, he said, "I painted my emotional response to it."

Martinez added, "I know these places from watching John Ford and John Wayne movies. It's a culture we all share" from just being American.

The Bushes are familiar with Martinez's work. He had donated a painting to the Texas governor's mansion when George W. Bush was governor. The Bushes bought the piece, which now hangs in their Texas ranch house. In 2001, the Bushes commissioned him to design the White House Christmas card, the first year that George W. Bush was president.

Martinez grew up in Washington, having lived only a few blocks away from Pennsylvania Avenue. "When I was growing up, I was a poor kid looking in through the gates of the White House," said Martinez. He remembered feeling "extremely emotional" the first time he left the presidential residence as a guest.

He said that he had a vision of himself as a raggedy kid on the other side of the gates and thought to himself, "Let's go home." And he returned to his Victorian home in Downingtown.

For more information on Adrian Martinez and his work, go to