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Meet the man who lives with John Street's portrait

Garth Herrick's workshop is an artistic mishmash of antiques, sculptures and paintings dating back to when he was four years old. In the center, a huge portrait of former mayor John F. Street sits on an easel, looking over it all.

Garth Herrick's workshop is an artistic mishmash of antiques, sculptures and paintings dating back to when he was four years old. In the center, a huge portrait of former mayor John F. Street sits on an easel, looking over it all.

The oil on canvas, along with a companion portrait, have lived with Herrick in his second-story Germantown art studio since he completed the two paintings three years ago.

"I have longed for a resolution and closure," Herrick said. "It's done, it's ready but he's never seen it in person and I've heard nothing about when it will go up."

Herrick, 58, is an award-winning portrait artist who has also painted former Gov. Ed Rendell, federal judges and presidents of colleges and universities.

His portraits of Street - one will hang in council chambers and a second in the mayor's reception room - were in the news earlier this month when Street and former Mayor Michael Nutter lobbed insults at one another after questions over why the paintings hadn't been hung.

Street confirmed he did not want his portrait to go up during Nutter's tenure and called Nutter a "petty micromanager," who he neither liked nor respected.

Nutter, who has not had a portrait done, responded by saying Street lacked "honesty and integrity."

For Herrick, it's not the only tension surrounding the painting.

Herrick, a mild-mannered, slow-talker with long gray hair, said Street's was among the more challenging portraits he's done.

"I can't think of anybody else that's kind of made me feel more stressed," he said.

But public officials, Herrick noted, often shy away from portraits. They can feel like a career coffin.

"Even Ed Rendell was very reticent about having his portrait done. He thought it was a bad omen. Portraits are only for dead people and he said, 'I still have a political future and I don't want to jeopardize that.' Once you get your portrait done you're kind of fixed there."

Herrick rented out a second studio space on Spring Garden Street, in hopes that being closer to Street might help them work together. It took over a year to schedule a meeting and when the two met it was only for ten minutes. Given Street's aversion to photographs, none of the pictures Herrick took quite worked.

"He was looking too stern, too anxious, too bothered. I couldn't use any of the photos so it's a morph of two images."

Herrick was paid $33,000 for both Street paintings which include custom-made wood frames.

One will hang in the city council chambers to mark Street's time as council president (it is currently stowed away in Herrick's workshop). The second will hang in the mayor's reception room among with the likenesses of dozens of past city mayors.

The mayoral portrait, 50 x 38 inches, depicts Street in front of the Richard Allen Housing affordable housing development, his hand on a pile of rubble to represent the abandoned homes that came down during his time in office. City Hall and the Comcast Building poke out of the skyline in the background.

Street requested the backdrop, initially also wanting children to be painted with him . Herrick's subjects typically choose the scenery and objects.

Marjorie "Midge" Rendell, knew exactly what she wanted for her then-husband's portrait.

"He had to be facing right at you, directly engaging and he had to have a rolled-up piece of paper in his hand," Herrick said.

Rendell invited Herrick to bring his paint box to a few of his meetings. But he, too, had some specific requests. In the first edition of the painting, Rendell said his hair looked too thin.

"I went back and added an 1/18th of an inch," Herrick said.

Then Rendell said it looked too puffy, so he scraped off half of the 18th of an inch.

Then the former mayor said it looked like a comb-over. "I blended it a little and he seemed happy."

Herrick's job takes patience and the delicate balance between flattery and honesty.

"I've known portrait painters who have just been ruined by following too closely what the person wanted," he said.

Herrick always reads up on the person he's painting and tries to talk with them and their family before observing.

"I usually will wait and see what people will actually do with their bodies, how do they sit? How they move around and how they talk. It makes a world of a difference being able to pull the personality out of the portrait."

Or course that process is harder when painting a father and son from the 1900s for whom the only photograph available is tiny and damaged.

In that case, Herrick created clay sculptures of the subjects' heads so that he could "work out all of his questions," and see how the light hit the faces from any angle.

Herrick grew up in Glenside, attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts - against the wishes of his father, a mechanical engineer. He now lives in his Germantown studio and has a 20-year-old daughter, who shares his love of art.

He owns antique cars and admits to having a penchant for reading internet conspiracy theories. Hew as recently awarded a lifetime achievement award by the Philadelphia Sketch Club.

Herrick doesn't let politics determine who he paints. He's never turned down a portrait request - though he sort of politely let the opportunity to do a marble bust of former Vice President Dick Cheyney pass him by.

A painting will usually take him a few months, though he acknowledges most of the work happens at the bitter end.

His invitation to Street to come see the completed portrait remains. "Anytime he wants, I'm here."